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Assateague people

The Assateague were an Algonquian people speaking the Nanticoke language who historically lived on the Atlantic coast side of the Delmarva Peninsula (known during the colonial period as the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia, and the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania).

Total population
Scattered, no formal recognition
Regions with significant populations
Eastern Shore of Maryland
Eastern Shore of Virginia
Related ethnic groups
Chincoteague, Pocomoke

While there are living people who may have distant heritage from this tribe, the tribe itself no longer exists as a culturally intact tribal community.


The Indigenous Assateague culture was based on the maritime and forest resources of the Chincoteague Bay watershed and, among other things, involved the manufacture and trade of shell beads.[1]

Historically, the Assateague practiced excarnation as part of their funerary rites. This involved the eventual storing of ancestors' bones on shelves in a log structure. Periodically, the remains were collected and buried in a common grave or ossuary. Several ossuaries have been discovered on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.[2]

Historical relations with EuropeansEdit

Treaty of 1662Edit

In 1662, the colony of Maryland made a treaty with the Assateagues (and the Nanticokes) whereby each English settler given land in the territory of the Assateagues would give the Assateague Tribal chief (or "emperor", as he was inaccurately referred to by the English) six matchcoats (garments made of a rough blanket or frieze, heavy rough cloth with uncut nap on one side), and one matchcoat for every runaway slave he had returned to the English. The treaty further stated that no murders were to be committed by either side, that no settler was to enter Assateague territory without a pass, and that the Assateagues were not to trade with the Dutch in Delaware, as long as the English could supply their necessities.

Of several other treaties signed between the provincial government and the Assateagues before the close of the 17th century, one ordered the Assateagues onto five reservations along the Pocomoke River, and was signed by Amonugus, as Emperor of the Assateagues. Apparently, based on signatures to a 1678 treaty, the Emperor of the Assateagues held a dominant position over the chiefs (or "kings", as subordinate to the "emperor") of the Chincoteague and Pocomoke tribes. Sessions of the Maryland General Assembly during this period record numerous complaints by the Assateague against colonists letting their cattle roam Assateague cornfields, breaking Assateague wild animal traps, cutting their timber, and usurping their lands. The Assateagues complained in 1686 that several settlers had even built homes in the Assateagues' town.

Treaty of 1722Edit

In 1722 a Peace Treaty was signed between the then-King of the Assateagues, Knosulm (alias M. Walker); the King of the Pocomokes, Wassounge (alias Daniel); and Charles Calvert, colonial Governor of Maryland. This treaty was to last to the "worlds end," and hostilities and damages from former acts would be "buried in perpetual oblivion," with further terms as follows:

  • Any Indian who killed a colonist was to be brought to the Governor as a prisoner.
  • Because the English claimed to be unable to distinguish one Indian from another, no Indian was to enter an English settlement with his face painted or carrying a weapon, or even to approach a settlement without laying down his weapons or calling out to identify himself.
  • The punishment for a settler killing an Indian that came un-painted, called out, and laid down his arms was death.
  • If an Indian and a settler met accidentally in the woods, the Indian had to immediately lay down his weapons: if he did not, he would considered an enemy.
  • The privilege of crabbing, fowling, hunting and fishing would be granted to each Indian individually.
  • Any Indian that killed or stole a hog, calf or other domestic animal, or stole any other goods would be punished as an Englishman.
  • Slaves and indentured servants who ran away from their masters and took shelter in Assateague territory were to be returned to the nearest English settlement.
  • The Indians were not to make any new peace with an enemy of the Governor, nor make war without the consent of the Governor.
  • If the Assateagues and Pocomokes killed any Indian subject to the Governor, it would be considered as great an offense as killing an Englishman.
  • Foreign Indians coming into the area were to be reported immediately to some person of note.

For the expected protection the Indians were to receive from the Governor, the Assateagues and Pocomokes were to deliver unto the Lord Proprietor of Maryland two bows and two dozen arrows yearly on 10 October.[3]


As part of the English attempt to confine the Indians, several peninsular tribes (including the Assateague and Pocomoke from the Atlantic side, the Annamessex and Manokin from the Chesapeake Bay side, and the Nassawaddox from further south), were gathered at a single settlement, called Indian Town (or Indiantown) by the settlers and Askiminokonson by the Indians. By 1671 it was the largest Indian settlement in Maryland, and was made part of a reservation in 1686. Askiminokonson was located on the north side of the Pocomoke River near present-day Snow Hill, Maryland.[4]

In 1742, unusual movements by the Indians created concern among the settlers, and investigation revealed that several chiefs had been involved in a plot for a general uprising fomented by a Shawnee chief, Messowan. The provincial Maryland government dissolved the Assateague's "empire", made the title of Emperor merely honorary, and placed each town directly under provincial authority. Much agitation for permission to emigrate followed, and by the end of the decade a large part of the Assateagues had moved to the Susquehanna region and become tributary to the Iroquois. This group moved slowly northward, and their descendants are now in Ontario, Canada. Of those who stayed in Maryland, one group lived on the Choptank reserve until 1798. Another remnant of the tribe, retaining little of its native culture, survived near the Indian River in Delaware.[5]


  1. ^ Indians in Maryland, an Overview, Maryland Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Historical marker in Assateague Island National Seashore
  3. ^ "1722 Peace Treaty". 1990-01-06. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  4. ^ Historical marker north of Snow Hill, Maryland
  5. ^ "The Assateague Indians: What Became of Them", by Suzanne Hurley