The Piscataway Indians, indigenous to southern Maryland, still reside in areas where first contact was
made with the English colonists in the early 1600's. At that time, we were part of a loosely-knit
confederation of ten tribes that banded together for economic, social and cultural preservation.
Early Piscataway life resembled that of its neighboring Algonquin tribes in the mid-Atlantic region (for
instance, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey). Hunting and gathering, fishing, and subsistence farming were
the means of survival. The invention of pottery, however, enabled the tribes to store their food and
protect vital seeds for planting. This innovation allowed the Piscataway to have greater control and
management over their food supply, expanding its size. Larger and more concentrated food supplies
brought smaller Piscataway villages together, which sometimes doubled or tripled in population. As a
result, a more elaborate political and social structure developed within the tribe.
From this evolving society came trade, which was soon to become a cornerstone in Piscataway daily
life. The trade of food, tools and weapons strengthened the ten-tribe confederacy not only militarily,
but also through mutual dependence, cooperation, and support. Eventually, these trade networks
extended beyond Virginia and Maryland to tribes throughout the eastern half of North America. The
lure of trade and the practical benefits that came with it also enticed the English (who had already
established a foothold in New England) to colonize southern Maryland. As a new trading partner, the
English provided the Piscataway with goods that were foreign yet valuable, such as metal and firearms,
while the Piscataway provided "New World" survival skills and knowledge, particularly for hunting
While relations between the two new trading partners were friendly and cooperative early on, the
growing number of English and other Europeans migrating to Maryland increased the scale and scope
of disputes over land. The Piscataway resisted, but, as history documents, their attempts were
unsuccessful. Consequently, in the 1700's, a small group of Piscataway fled Maryland to seek refuge
with other tribes, while the majority went "underground" into the unsettled regions of southern
Maryland. There, they were able to maintain their culture internally, but adopted the lifestyle and habits
of the colonists. These changes disrupted the cohesiveness of the tribe and lasted nearly two centuries.
With a resurgence in cultural identity and changing public attitudes, the Piscataway reorganized as a
tribal entity in the 1970s.
Today, the Piscataway are active in all aspects of American society while retaining their unique
traditions, values, and culture. We have an active American Indian Cultural Center (AICC) in
Waldorf, Maryland which sponsors various public and private social, educational and cultural events.
Since the preservation of our culture is our top priority, the young are educated in both American and
Piscataway society, which is essential to our survival and prosperity in the 21st century.
Copyright 2004. American Indian Cultural Center.