Home > History > The First Tribe of Washington DC
As we look around, searching for evidence, proof, or nostalgia, there seems to be a problem: not many people have heard of the Native American Tribe of Piscataway. When asked about them, most people scratch their heads, frown their faces, shrug their shoulders and politely say, "Never heard of them." However, with much determination and inquiry, a minute sign of their existence was found.
The Piscataway tribe lived along the Piscataway Creek in the Prince George's region of Maryland up to our Nation's Capital. Most of the tribe settled comfortably in small villages and camps along the Chesapeake Bay. They were quite content with domestic affairs: the men building wigwams and "dug-out canoes," while the women made pottery and baskets. It is said that these "physically dark, very tall, muscular and well-proportioned people" enjoyed their way of life and they only looked to obtain one thing: peace.
This sense of peace was easily interrupted on March 25, 1634 when Lord Cecil Calvert and his Catholic crew landed and began establishing the English Colony of Maryland. Because the native Piscataways had already settled in the area, Calvert's conquest didn't go over as smoothly as he thought it would. Calvert came to Maryland as means of making it home for all people of the Catholic faith. Calvert's decree forced two problems for the Piscataways; the tribe practiced their own traditional religion, and could not interpret the English language to remotely understand a foreign faith. Therefore, the Piscataways had no idea what Cecil Calvert was talking about, but when he "composed a grammar, dictionary and catechism in [their] dialect," Algonquian. In time the Piscataway Tribe knew that the English Lord wanted something that they may or may not have been opt to give.
Because of their ability to fight for what they felt was right, the Piscataways faced many hardships. Time and time again, Calvert and company came to convert them, but they held fast to what they believed and never once gave in to his tactics. With time, the Piscataways were no longer being persuaded to change their religion rather, they were asked to leave the prime lands around the Chesapeake. Not only did they receive an eviction notice, in the Northwest, the Susquehannocks, "a warlike tribe," also sought to drive the Piscataways out from their land and "destroy them." In doing so, the Susquehannocks, who were a powerful Native American group, saw fit to attack the Piscataways on more than one occasion. They "raged into [the Piscataway's] territory and raided their villages in the town of Nacotchtant-which is now the region called Anacostia." Aside from the raids, the Susquehannocks used "legal and illegal means" of driving them out of their land. Some of these things include, "demoralization by liquor dealers, hunting by slave-catchers, exposure to smallpox, forbidding them use of guns for their own defense, destroying of their plantations by cattle and hogs, and brokenness of their pride by the oppressive restrictions" that were placed upon them. For this reason, the Piscataways "sank to conditions of helplessness." In 1697, under the authority of the "emperor" and principal chiefs of the tribe, the Piscataways left their homes.
Where did they go? Well, it is said that they "negotiated with the Iroquis for a settlement under their protection, and permission being given, they began a slow migration northward." In the north, some of the Piscataways joined other tribes and lived within their settlements, and others died due to illness. The last noted appearance of the Piscataways in history "was at a council at Detroit in 1793."
Today, the Piscataways have pretty much become nonexistent in our society. However, there are some people who have made claims of being descendants of this tribe. In saying so, they are fighting profusely for cultural and ethical "legitimacy," not to mention, recognition as well. Will it be given to them? That's something nobody knows.