Entity Description: Tribe - Pocomoke


Indigenous people from the Pocomoke.

The Pocomoke people are an Eastern Woodland culture of the Algonquian language group.   

This historic tribe whose territory encompassed the rivers Pocomoke, Great Annemessex, Little Annemessex, and Manokin, the bays of Monie and Chincoteague, and the sounds of Pocomoke and Tangier.  

The Pocomokes were likely engaged by Europeans prior the Captain John Smith’s 1608 exploration, however Smith’s 1612 Map of Virginia provides the first known depiction of their King’s House on the Wighco Flu, now called the Pocomoke River. 

Pocomoke villages or towns ideally situated along rivers, creeks, and bays, provided a bounty of seafood and convenient access for travel.  Women and children worked garden plots where they grew beans, squashes and corn.  Men and older boys hunted and trapped animals upstream and in the hinterlands for food and hides. 

The Pocomoke’s unique location, extending between the Chesapeake waters to the Atlantic Ocean, provided resources to make wampum and peake.  Made in “belts”, wampum-peake was traded with northern and western tribes for copper, stone, and other items.  Dugout canoes made from local cypress, cedar, and pine trees also served as a Pocomoke trade item.

As noted by Captain Smith, the Pocomoke spoke a dialect so different from the Occohannocks and Accomacs to the south that an interpreter was needed for communication.  Smith further noted the Nanticoke to the north also spoke this strange dialect.  The Nanticoke are described by historians as associated with the Lenape to the north and probably the Pocomoke were also.

Villages were situated on both sides of a river or creek, sometimes representing separate clans or family groups.  Hereditary leadership followed the mother’s clan or family and the leadership could be a male or female.  Homes were rounded frame and mat or thatch construction, called wigwams.  The leader’s home was sometimes larger, more oblong, and better furnished.  Other structures and shelters were built as needed.

The territory of the Pocomoke took in what is now Somerset and Worcester Counties of Maryland and extended into northern Accomack County, Virginia.  Towns and villages took the name of adjacent rivers, creeks, and bays or vice-versa.  Pocomoke lands were greatly consumed by the encroachment of European settlements during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.  Except for surviving villages at river necks the Pocomoke were driven onto reservations including Askiminikansen, near Snow Hill, Maryland.  It is through intermarriage of Europeans and Pocomoke People of the villages in these “necks” that the mantle of leadership has been perpetuated and survives.  

For the sake of this project, and our attempt to be inclusive in our exploration of the period, this is one of several unrecognized tribes listed in our encyclopedia.   Modern national or state recognition doesn't prevent the study of a given people.

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