Harford County has a rich Indian legacy

THE HARFORD County area was familiar to several tribes of Indians before the arrival of European colonists in Maryland.

The first written account of these tribes was the report of Captain John Smith, who explored the Upper Chesapeake Bay with 12 companions, setting out July 24, 1608.


In Chapter 6 of his General History of Virginia, published in 1629, Smith wrote, "The first night we anchored at Stingray isle. The next day crossed Patawomecks [Potomac] River and hastened to the river Bolus [Patapsco]. We went not much further before we might see the bay divide into two heads, and arriving there, we found it divided into four, all of which we searched so far as we could sail them.

"Two of them we found inhabited, but in crossing the bay we encountered seven or eight canoes full of Massawomecks; we seeing them prepare to assault us, left our oars and made way with out sail to encounter them; yet we were but few with our captain that could stand, for within two days after we left Kecoughtan [Hampton, Va.], the rest were sick almost to death, until they were seasoned to the country.


"Having shut them under our tarpaulin, we put their hats upon sticks by the barge's side, and betwixt two hats a man with two pieces, to make us seem many, and so we think the Indians supposed these hats to be men, for they fled with all possible speed to the shore, and there stayed, staring at the sailing of our barge till we anchored right against them.

"Long it was before we could draw them to come to us. At last they sent two of their company unarmed in a canoe; the rest all followed to second them if need required. These two being but each presented with a bell, brought aboard all their fellows, presenting our captain with venison, bears' flesh, fish, bows, arrows, clubs, targets and bears' skins. We understood them nothing at all, but by signs, whereby they signified to us they had been at war with the Tockwoghes, the which they confirmed by showing us their green wounds, but the night parting us, we imagined they appointed the next morning to meet, but after that we never saw them."

In addition to the warring Massawomecks and Tockwoghes, Smith describes his party's encounter with the Indians of the Susquehanna River: "Entering the river of Tockwogh [Sassafras], the savages all armed, in a fleet of boats, after their barbarous manner, round environed us; so it chanced that one of them could speak the language of Powhatan, who persuaded the rest to a friendly parley. ... They conducted us to their palisaded town, manteled with the bark of trees, with scaffolds like mounts, breasted about with breasts very formally. ...

"Many hatchets, knives, pieces of iron and brass we saw among them [the Tockwoghes], which they reported to have from the Sasquesahanocks, a mighty people and mortal enemies of the Massawomecks. The Sasquesahanocks inhabit upon the chief spring of these four branches of the bay's head, two days' journey higher than our barge would pass for rocks, yet we prevailed with the interpreter to take with him another interpreter to persuade the Sasquesahanocks to come visit us, for their languages are different.

"Three or four days we expected their return. Then 60 of those giant-like people came down, with presents of venison, tobacco pipes 3 feet in length, baskets, targets, bows and arrows."

Smith says the Sasquesahanocks, who could muster about 600 warriors, performed a great ceremony and asked him "To defend and revenge them of the Massawomecks. ... Many descriptions and discourse they made us, of Atquanachuke, Massawomeck, and other people, signifying they inhabit upon a great water beyond the mountains, which we understood to be some great lake or the river of Canada, and from the French to have their hatchets and commodities by trade."

Next to the Tockwoghes, Smith wrote, are the "Ozinies, with 60 men. ... [then] the Chowanocks, the Mangoags, the Monacans, the Mannahokes, the Massawomecks, the Powhatans, the Susquesahanocks, the Atquanachukes, the Tockwoghes, and the Kuscarawaocks. All these not any one understand another but by interpreters."



Since Smith's time, scholars have been trying to identify who these indigenous peoples in the northern Chesapeake were.

The easiest group to identify is the Sasquesahanocks, known to Colonial Maryland as the Susquehannocks, the dominant tribe in the Harford region.

The Susquehannocks spoke an Iroquian language. Their home was on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, where they lived in fortified villages. According to C. Milton Wright in Our Harford Heritage, published in 1967, "It is doubtful whether any permanent Susquehannock settlements or 'towns' were located within the confines of Harford County, for the exact site of any such place is not known. However, there is said to have been a sizable settlement near the mouth of Octoraro Creek in Cecil County and others along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. It is certain that many temporary abodes were found along Deer Creek and in the fields and forests of their hunting grounds. About 1692, [Maryland] Rangers traveling over the backwoods are reported to have discovered a great many Indian cabins. Presumably, these were the scattered dwellings of hunters and not permanent settlements."


According to J. Thomas Scharf's History of Maryland, published in 1879, the Susquehannocks "were not, however, members of the Iroquois confederacy, but, on the contrary, were among their fiercest enemies" at the time of Smith's exploration.

In a generally favorable picture of the Susquehannocks, Smith included a description of their weapons: The chief's "arrows were five quarters long, headed with the splinters of a white crystal-like stone, in form of a heart, an inch broad, an inch and a half or more long." Indian artifacts collected in the Harford area usually feature many examples of these deadly white quartz Susquehannock arrowheads.


The Susquehannock tribe was weakened by smallpox and wars with the Iroquois tribes to the north. The few remaining Susquehannocks, known in Pennsylvania by their Dutch name, Mingoes, were massacred in Lancaster County, Pa., Dec. 14, 1763.

The Massawomecks that Smith's party encountered in the vicinity of the Bush River were another Iroquois tribe. Walter W. Preston in his History of Harford County, published in 1901, described this name as "another name for the famous Mohawk tribe of Indians, whose seat was further to the north."

In Smith's account, the Massawomecks appear as raiders attacking other Indians in the area. Iroquois raiders often entered the Maryland area, fighting the Piscataways on the Western Shore and the Nanticokes on the Eastern Shore. Massawomeck is the name given to these raiders by their enemies, the Powhatan tribes of Virginia.


According to Scharf, "About the identity of the nation whom Smith calls the Tockwoghes, there seems much doubt. Some writers identify them with the Nanticokes of later authors; but ... the position of Smith's Kuscarawaocks more accurately corresponds with that of the Nanticokes, and the Tockwoghes dwelt north of these, with their fort on the Sassafras River. There they had a hundred warriors, and were enemies of the Massawomecks or Iroquois, some of whom showed Smith the wounds they had received in an encounter with the Tockwoghes. As they were evidently a considerable people, both in numbers and ability to hold their own, there can be little doubt that their apparent disappearance is merely due to confusion of names."

According to the tradition of the Nanticokes, Scharf continues, "they were an offshoot of the Lenni Lanape, or Delawares, which nation they called their 'grandfather.' But they had many names. Nentego, meaning 'tidewater,' or 'seaside,' people and Tayachquans, meaning 'bridge-builders.' Now Nentego is almost certainly the origin of the name Nanticoke; and Tayachquan, pronounced with the Indian guttural, resembles Smith's Tockwoghes. Both the Tockwoghes and Kuscarawaocks may have been offshoots of the Delaware stock."


Harford's Indian past has many confusing names, some English, some French, some Dutch, some Swedish, many in the tongues of native peoples, including the Iroquois, Delawares, Nanticokes and Powhatans. At the Liriodendron mansion in Bel Air, there is much Indian heritage for the curators to explain and display.