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Nanticoke

History

Before the first European contact, the Nanticoke in what is now Maryland and Delaware had a broad trading relationship with Indians in the Ohio River area.

The Indians of that area traded clay pipes, copper beads, and one foot long ceremonial knives to the Nanticokes in exchange for shell beads and sharks teeth.

The Nanticoke were excellent farmers, hunters and gathers. Agriculture provided much of their food. The five growing seasons were :

* The budding of spring

* The earring of corn

* The highest sun

* The corn gathering or falling of the leaf

* Cohonk or winter

In each season certain animals and plants were available for food, The Nanticoke depended on the kinds of foods available at each season. In the Spring and Summer women and children planted and tended their gardens, the men hunted and fished to supplement the food . In the fall the food was harvested and stored in baskets or underground pits.

During the cold Winter months individual families would leave their permanent village and go to their separate hunting territories. They hunted Bear in early winter, and Deer, Rabbit, Turkey and Squirrel. In the Spring they would return to their village to plant their gardens.

To clear the forest for planting they would either build fires around the trunks of the trees or cut grooves around the trunk with axes, which caused the tree to die.

The leaves would fall letting the sunlight touch the Earth. Gardens were planted beneath these trees. In a few years the trees would fall or The Nanticoke would burn them down completely.

Women would prepare the soil with tree limbs or hoes made of stone, shell or bone. After the soil was loosened the seeds of corn, beans, squash, pumpkin, sunflower and tobacco were planted. Younger children would weed the gardens and act as " Live Scare Crows " sitting on high platforms and making noises to scare the birds away.

The men used bows and arrows for hunting. There were at least three ways to hunt for deer.

1. They could trap large numbers of deer in a small area by building fires two or three miles wide.

Gradually they would make the circle smaller, scarring the deer towards the center. There, as the deer closed together they would kill them with their arrows or spears.

2. They would drive a herd of deer toward the river. Other men would wait near the river bank and kill the deer.

3. They would put on a deer hide and sneak up on the deer and kill it with their arrows or spears.

Because the tribes settled on the river or shore, fishing was a vital part of their food source. Crab, shrimp, eels, fish, clams and oysters were caught. A fishing method used was to make a weir. brush and twigs were driven into shallow bottoms of the river or stream to create a v shaped barrier. In the center of the weir was a narrow opening through which the fish could swim they were trapped in baskets or a small fenced in section. At other times a bow and arrow or spear was used for fishing. Nets were also used by the Nanticokes.

The women butchered animals and prepared skins. Deer skin was used extensively for making garments. To make warm weather garments the fur was scraped off the hide and the skin was softened to make an apron like garment worn by both men and women. Garments were often decorated with beads, shells and fringe. For cold weather bear skin or deer skin fur was left on the hide and the fur side worn against the body to provide warmth. Moccasins , leggings, cloaks and long robes were also made of deer skins.

Corn was one of the most important foods. Corn could be eaten as a vegetable, made into corn meal or mixed with other vegetables and plants. Pone was a bread made from cornmeal mixed with water and baked on a flat stone that had been heated in the fire. Fish was another important food. Fish could be impaled on a sharpened stick and stuck into the ground near the fire or broiled by placing them on green wood racks that were over the fire.

A wide variety of plants were used to make baskets for carrying and storing food. Plants commonly used were silk grass, bulrush, corn husks, native hemp, bark and pine cones.

If you would like more information on Indian food and basket making visit Native tech.

They had a well developed form of self Government. Sometimes four to six tribes would organize under a confederacy under one leader called a Tayac . The Tayac was responsible for making important decisions for the Tribes. Each tribe had a Major Chief called Werowance . The Werowance gave advice to the Tayac and made some of the decisions for his own tribe. There were two councils , the Peace Council called Wiso, and a War Council called Cockarouse. Members of both Councils would meet regularly with the Werowance. At these Councils called Matchacomicos, problems were discussed that were of importance to the tribe. Tobacco was always smoked at these Councils to gather wisdom from the Spirit World.

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