400 YEARS AGO – YEAR 1620 – FIRST RECORDED EUROPEAN CONTACT WITH LOCAL NATIVES IN WHAT WOULD BECOME SOMERSET COUNTY, MD

(ORIGINALLY POSTED ON 12/31/2020)

First, I hope everyone had a good Christmas, I want to thank everybody who has purchased my framed prints, your support is greatly appreciated. The amount of orders has kept me very busy, so I haven’t been able to write many posts/articles lately. However, I want to share this before the new year, so I figure I’d better get on it. lol.

Thirteen years after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, most of the lands around the Chesapeake were still a wilderness to the Europeans. Just a year prior, in 1619, a settlement was started near what is now Cape Charles, VA to procure salt from seawater, which was the first settlement on the Eastern Shore. The lower Eastern Shore of VA was a prime location to expand colonization efforts, for the native tribes in that area – the Accomacks and Accohanocks – were very docile, unlike those to the north such as the Susquehannas on the Western Shore, and the Pocomokes and Nanticokes on the Eastern Shore.

In 1620, tobacco had yet to become a significant cash-crop and exporting furs was still a primary source of commerce in the colony – and this meant trading with the Natives. Trade agreements were made with the Powhatans around Jamestown early-on, so the most ambitious, and brave Colonists set out into the wilderness to establish trade agreements of their own.

Now, to put this in perspective, the relations between the Europeans and the Natives were never without hostility. Between 1610 and 1614, the First Anglo-Powhatan War was fought in Virginia around Jamestown, with the Colonists, and the Natives as well, often carrying out a ‘schorched-earth, no quarter’ type strategy. During the next few years, the relations were very tense and precarious, so venturing out in to the wilderness to trade surely took a tremendous amount of courage and ambition.

To embark in this trade, a person would need to build or purchase a sailing-barge, items for trading, a guide and translator, guns and ammo for hunting and protection, among many other necessities. Though the most important thing to have was patience, honesty and integrity when dealing with the Natives.

There are reports in 1620 of trading being done on the Rappahannock River on the westside, but – to my knowledge – there wasn’t any significant amount of trading being done on the Eastern Shore except on the lower part of VA. The only reference that we have that the first trading was done in 1620, in what would become Somerset County, comes from Somerset County Court Records, when in 1670, a man named John Westlock testified that he began doing business at a place called “Trading Branch” fifty years earlier.

His testimony was not contested during the court hearing then, nor has it been challenged by any legitimate historian since, and I’ve found nothing that contradicts Westlock’s word, so I take it to be true.

‘Trading Branch,’ was located on the Manokin River, where it splits with King’s Creek. This land can be seen from Stewarts Neck Road in Princess Anne. If turning at the veterinary office on Rt.13, it’s on the right just before getting to the bridge.

The Manokin River, as well as the Manokin Settlement that would be established in the early 1660’s, were named after the Manokin Tribe, just as the Annemessex rivers and Settlement to the south were named after the Annemessex Tribe. Both of these were sub-tribes of the Pocomoke Indian Nation which governed all of the tribes who lived on the Pocomoke Sound and lower Tangier Sound. We know this to be true because MD Colonial Records state that the Manokin and Annemessex tribes ‘belonged’ to the Pocomoke Indian Nation.

While I have a lot more I could add, it’s 11:00pm on Dec. 31, 2020, and I want to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first known European contact with the Native Americans of Somerset County in 1620.

Happy New Year!

Joe Paden


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