Blood of the Piscataway still runs deep INDIAN REMAINS

May 04, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Between 5,000 and 7,000 people in St. Mary's, Charles and Prince George's counties claim Piscataway Indian ancestry, according to Mervin A. Savoy, chairwoman of the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy.

"The largest communities are still within the same 10 communities John Smith found in 1608," and marriage among those communities continued into the 1920s, she said. "We are all family."

Today, not one is full-blooded, she said. The most anyone claims is three-quarters Piscataway ancestry. Ms. Savoy noted that it is also unlikely that families who descended from Maryland's 17th-century English settlers could still claim pure English blood.

Richard Hughes, chief archaeologist of Maryland, said the Piscataway are by far the best-documented Indians in the state. They began their genealogical research in the 1880s, aided by church records, Ms. Savoy said. The state was settled by Roman Catholics, and the Piscataway were their first converts. They retain ties to the church to this day.

The group is represented by the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy, the Maryland Indian Heritage Society and the Piscataway Nation. Ms. Savoy said the organizations reflect ancient relationships centered on three major villages: Piscataway in Prince George's County, and Potobac (which the English called Port Tobacco) and Allens Fresh (the Indian name of which was lost), both in Charles County.

Significant Piscataway communities also still exist in Oxon Hill, La Plata, Brandywine, Accokeek, Rosaryville, Clinton and Upper Marlboro, she said.

Archaeologists believe that the ancestors of the Piscataway arrived in what is now southern Maryland between A.D. 900 and 1300.

Capt. John Smith, exploring the upper Chesapeake Bay in 1608, described the Piscataway as the largest and most powerful group among six or seven Algonquian-speaking peoples living in the Tidewater sections of southern Maryland.

Known collectively as the Conoy, they included the Nocotchtanks, Pamunkeys, Nanjemoys, Potapacos, Yaocomacos and perhaps also the Tauxenents. All were subservient to the Piscataway ruler, the "tayac."

The Conoy lived, hunted, farmed and fished along the Maryland side of the Potomac River as far north as the Great Falls near Washington.

Colonial documents record that a group of Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock Indians entered Conoy territory in the 17th century and built a stronghold near Nanjemoy. They fought with both the European colonists and the Piscataway.

Mr. Hughes said bones that the state obtained from Accokeek, and which the Piscataway hope to rebury, are "probably Piscataway" but may also include remains of their enemies, the Susquehannocks.

Ms. Savoy seems undeterred. The Susquehannocks stole Piscataway women during raids and intermarried, she said, so any Susquehannock remains in the state's collection "may be family."

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