People. Sometimes referred to as nations by Europeans, the largest division of Maryland's indigenous population primarily is defined by language. In the 1600s, European explorers encountered a great diversity of people living in the area that would be named Maryland. Most of the land was claimed by Algonquin tribes, although both Iroquois and Siouan maintained a presence.

Tribes. Among these are the Accohannock, Assateaque, Choptank, Delaware, Matapeake, Nanticoke, Piscataway, Pocomoke, and Shawnee. Tribes of similar traits and interests often created allegiances and political bodies for protection and commerce. Often refered to as confederacies or nations by Europeans, the largest was gathered under Chief Powhatan. Composed of Algonquin tribes, the Powhatan Confederacy stretched from the Carolinas to Maryland, and was the primary governing body encountered by European settlers.

Bands. The smallest recognized group of natives, the term band usually was applied to a single village, or a cluster of closely grouped small villages of similar tribe, or a migrant group of families. Bands could range from a few dozen to a several hundred. Although few bands of certain tribes lived in Maryland, those tribes, including the Susquehannock and the Doeg, also played significant roles in Maryland colonial history.


The Algonquin people were very prosperous during European colonization. At that time, tribes and bands were present in most colonies, and Maryland was no exception. Of the Algonquin subtribes living in Maryland, the four most prominent were the Choptank, the Delaware, the Matapeake, and the Nanticoke. As coastal people, these subtribes spent the warmer months hunting and fishing in or near the Chesapeake Bay.

Due to tribal wars and colonial incursions, a large portion of the Maryland Algonquin had emigrated by the end of the 17th century. Some Algonquin, however, chose to stay, including the Nause-Waiwash band of Dorchester County.

Centered in Virginia, the Powhatan Confederacy was the largest organized body of tribes in the Americas during the early days of European settlement.


Most tribes within the Iroquois were centered in the states north of Maryland, stretching into New England and Canada. In Maryland, the Iroquois presence encompassed mainly three tribes: the Massawomeck in western Maryland; the Susquehannock in the northern counties; and the Tuscarora, who emigrated from the Carolinas through Maryland in the 1700s.


Capt. John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, he encountered no Siouan in what would become Maryland. Yet, during the mid-1700s, three Siouan tribes emigrated through Maryland. The Monacan, the Saponi, and the Tutelo moved from Virginia and North Carolina to New York, later traveling further north into Canada. Though the tribes relocated largely as one group, a small number of bands remained behind, or merged with other tribes during their journeys.

Two Siouan bands found in colonial Maryland were the Saponi and the Tutelo. By the 1740s, a small number of Saponi settled in Dorchester County. This band later may have assimilated with local Nanticoke bands.

*Further information about Maryland Native Americans can be found in "Documents for the Classroom," and various published works, such as Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland (1997), by Helen R. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson; Indians of Southern Maryland (2014), by Rebecca Seib and Helen R. Rountree; The Origin and Meaning of the Indian Place Names of Maryland (1950), by Hamill Kenny; and In Pursuit of the Past: An Anthropological and Bibliographic Guide to Maryland and Delaware (1986), by Frank W. Porter III.

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