- from Maryland
The first people in your family to arrive in Maryland may have come from Europe.
Perhaps they were brought here by force from Africa. Or maybe they traveled north from Central or South America. Or west from Asia. Alternatively, they may have been among the very first people who arrived much earlier, long before anyone else. The people you will read about here lived long ago and in very different ways from you. Their lives are points on a continuum that began about 13,000 years in the past and persist to the present day. Imagine you were there. . . .
▲ Suppose it’s 13,000 years ago. You, with others, are working your way across the Bering Land Bridge. You have no way of knowing it, but you are on your way from Asia to North America. You yourself may not make it all the way, but others will. Thousands of years pass and generations after you continue the journey. It is now 11,000 years ago. The Ice Age is ending, and the climate is warming. Paleo-Indian peoples approach what is present-day Maryland. Ice has melted and seawater has flooded the land, causing a huge bay to form. Thousands of years later, that bay will come to be known as Chesapeake Bay.
Little is known for sure about these earliest people. But scientists have learned about them from studying spear points and other artifacts, or objects left behind. Supposedly, they lived in semi-nomadic groups. (Nomadic means “wandering” or “roaming.”) Perhaps they followed herds of animals, such as mammoths. The spear points suggest they were hunters. They may have also used other resources such as nuts and fish to survive. ▶
▲ It is now 10,000 years ago. Slowly, slowly, as the climate has changed, life has changed, too. Hunting is still the main source of food. The Archaic peoples have found new food sources – fish and shellfish from the Chesapeake Bay. Artifacts from this period include fishhooks, ax heads made from stone, and stone bowls for cooking. Tools like these suggest that the people tended to stay in one place rather than roam.
It is now 3,000 years ago. Woodland Indians have settled in villages. They live mostly along the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers that flow into it. The people there survive on oysters and fish from these waters. Plus edible plants like cattails and pond lilies. They have also figured out how to grow crops – corn, squash, and beans. ▶
Use your mouse or finger to scrub through the animation below.
▲ If you have ever used a bow and arrow or scooped food from a bowl, you have used technology that was also used by the Woodland Indians. The pottery was a much lighter weight than the old stone bowls. It was made from local clay and could be used along with baskets and animal skin containers to hold or store things. It was also used for trade, which was taking place up and down the rivers. The bow and arrow replaced the spear for hunting.
Eastern Woodland Indians in Maryland, 1600
▲ Europeans arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area early in the 17th century. By that time, three groups of Eastern Woodland peoples were living there – the Nanticoke, the Piscataway, and the Susquehannock. English explorer and soldier John Smith was the first European in contact with these groups, when he explored Chesapeake Bay. That was in 1608. About the area he said, “Heaven and earth seem never to have agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.”
▲ The name Nanticoke means “people of the tidewaters.” The name is well suited to them. In warmer months, the Nanticoke lived close to the rivers and survived on the resources they provided. These included fish, clams, oysters, mussels, and crabs. The fishers used baskets, nets, and spears to catch their food. They also hunted for squirrels, porcupines, rabbits, and beavers. Every part of an animal was used – shells for spoons and bowls. Fur and skins for clothing. Porcupine quills and bones for tools.
▲ The Nanticoke lived in wigwams. These were homes shaped like domes, cones, or rectangles. Branches and young trees were used to create the frame. Sheets of tree bark covered the frame. In the center of the earthen floor was a fireplace. Overhead was a hole in the roof so smoke could escape. The Nanticoke had meetings or other gatherings in longhouses. Some villages were surrounded by log fences for protection.
▲ The name Piscataway means “people where the rivers blend.” The Piscataway lived in groups of longhouses. Each longhouse was home to a clan, or group of extended family members. A fence of wood stakes or tree trunks surrounded the longhouses for protection. Everyone worked together in a Piscataway village. Even the children. It was their job to protect the crops from small animals.
The Piscataway depended on animals – mostly deer – for their clothing. The hide was used for dresses and leggings and moccasins. The bone was used for making knives and arrowheads and combs. The hooves became handles for different tools. When the weather got cold, the Piscataway would wrap themselves in hides from bears or wolves for warmth. ▶
▲ The name Susquehannock means “people of the muddy river.” If you look closely at the photo of the Susquehanna River where they lived, you can probably understand why. After heavy rains and flooding, sediment from the riverbed is carried to the surface, and the river appears brown in places. The Susquehannock were made up of 20 smaller tribes, or groups. The tribes lived in walled villages along the river. Many families lived in each longhouse in a village. Like other peoples at the time, the Susquehannock made seasonal rounds. They planted corn, beans, and squash in the spring. In summer, they moved to Chesapeake Bay to fish for food. In fall, they returned to their villages to harvest the crops. In winter, they ate what they harvested and hunted.
The Susquehannock were a fierce people. Many other tribes in the region were afraid of them. John Smith described the Susquehannock as “gyant-like” (giant-like). And perhaps they were, compared to Smith. After all, he and the others from England arrived poorly nourished and thin. But the Susquehannock were neither poorly nourished nor thin. ▶