Piscataway/Conoy in Virginia

a 1670 map recorded settlements of the Piscataway and remnants of the tribes in Powhatan's paramount chiefdom, across the Potomac River from the Occoquan (Achquin) River
a 1670 map recorded settlements of the Piscataway and remnants of the tribes in Powhatan's paramount chiefdom, across the Potomac River from the Occoquan (Achquin) River
Source: Library of Congress, Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 (by Augustine Herrman)

When the English arrived in Virginia, they discovered the Piscataway tayac was a paramount chief similar to Powhatan. The tayac's span of control included what today is southern Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay. Land on the west side of the Potomac River, occupied by the Dogue, may also have been part of the tayac's territory. The tayac's capital was at Moyaone near Piscataway Creek, and each town under his authority was governed by werowances, war chiefs, priests and shamans.1

The Piscataway may have evolved from a group that migrated down the Potomac River between 1300-1400AD. According to the Montgomery Hypothesis, a group living along the Potomac River between the Blue Ridge and the Fall Line was displaced by others who moved into the region from the north. The displaced group - the Montgomery complex people - moved downriver from the Piedmont to the other side of the Fall Line. At the same time, people sharing the Mason Island culture were displaced from the Potomac River valley upstream of the Blue Ridge and forced to move into the Virginia Piedmont south of the river.

The migrants forced down below Great Falls established new towns on the eastern side of the Potomac River, on Accokeek and Potomac creeks in Virginia, and later in the Mason Neck region. They evolved into the Piscataway, an Algonquian-speaking with close ties to the Patawomeke.

They actively traded with the closely-allied Nacotchtank and other tribes on the Eastern Shore. According to one story told by the brother of the tayac in 1660, the first tayac came from the Eastern Shore thirteen generations before the first English immigrants into Maryland.2

The colonists who reached Maryland in 1634 via the Ark and Dove dealt initially with Wannas, the head chief. The first Maryland settlement of St. Mary's City was in territory of the Yaocomaco, who paid tribute to Wannnas. Governor Calvert negotiated successfully for the right to occupy the land.

The English were welcomed because the Piscataway were losing territory and population in their competition with the Susquehannock, who may have been the decendants of the northern group that originally forced migrations out of the Potomac River valley in 1300-1400AD.



1. Alex J. Flick, Skylar A. Bauer, Scott M. Strickland, D. Brad Hatch, Julia A. King. "...a place now known unto them:" The Search for Zekiah Fort, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 2012, pp.11-14, https://www.academia.edu/2484589/_A_Place_Now_Known_Unto_Them_The_Search_for_Zekiah_Fort_by_Alex_J._Flick_Skylar_A._Bauer_Scott_M._Strickland_D._Brad_Hatch_and_Julia_A._King (last checked November 18, 2016)
2. Stephen Potter, Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley, University of Virginia Press, 1994, p.132, pp.137-138
3. Skylar A. Bauer, Julia A. King, Scott M. Strickland, "Archaeological Investigations at Notley Hall Near Chaptico, Maryland," St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 2013, p.6, https://www.academia.edu/10311813/Archaeological_Investigations_at_Notley_Hall_Near_Chaptico_Maryland (last checked November 18, 2016)

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