5th Annual Chicone Village Day at Handsell

VIENNA – The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance is sponsoring the 6th Annual Chicone Village Day at Handsell on Indiantown Road in Vienna, Dorchester County from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on April 28. All are welcome to come to Handsell on this special day designed to honor the history and culture of the Eastern Woodland Native People who inhabited a wide area in the eastern part of the United States including the vastly wooded area of the Delmarva Pennisula.

These included the Algonquian speaking “Nentego” (Nanticokes), the largest tribe on the Eastern Shore, who were part of a matrilineal culture. They lived off the land, using wood, stone, bone and clay products as the basic raw materials in their lives. This region is noted for ample rainfall, numerous ponds, streams, and rivers and the Woodland Indians tended to establish permanent settlements near water in the forested areas.

Traditionally, Eastern Woodland Indians lived in longhouses built of bent saplings covered with mats and/or bark. Some of these would be single family size while others were quite extensive, housing larger family units. The Nanticokes were a hunter forager culture.

Their primary animal foods were deer, turkey, turtle, fish and shellfish. As experienced farmers they grew beans, corn, and squash. While the males hunted, the females worked in the gardens raising crops and foraged for nuts, berries and roots like tuckahoe and cattail. Available plant material was used both for food and medicinal purposes.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, there were numerous tribes living on the Delmarva peninsula. John Smith’s 1608 voyage around the rim of the Chesapeake Bay described one of the largest villages, that of “the Emperor” which was in this area of Chicone Creek and Vienna. The site was later a reservation set aside by the Maryland Colonies and a Trading Post called “Handsell” set up by Englishman Thomas Taylor, a designated interpreter for the Maryland Colony.

While many tribes had moved freely up and down the peninsula for centuries, by the mid 1600’s, Europeans seeking land forced the tribes to abandon their traditional homes and lifestyles. Nanticoke Indians who originally lived along the Nanticoke River found themselves slowly being pushed north away from their ancestral lands, some eventually joining the Iroquois Confederacy.

The story of Eastern Woodland Indian culture reaches thousands of years into the distant past of what is now the state of Maryland. Their heritage is intimately woven into the fabric of our nation, yet it is often misinterpreted and remains largely obscure.

Disease, conflict and assimilation wiped out much of this heritage within one or two generations. As a result, an awareness of native culture is limited to place names of many of our towns and rivers whose meanings have long since been forgotten.

The Chicone Village Project, begun in 2013 with the ground breaking of an authentic native dwelling lodge or longhouse has since expanded to include a Native Garden and Work Shelter and recently a Nature Walk. The Chicone Longhouse is an authentically built replica of a single family dwelling unit, the first to be built on the Eastern Shore in 200 years.

Made of all natural material, it requires regular maintenance recently done by the Chicone Village volunteers who have logged in over 3000 hours creating this single family complex. The Village has been visited by many tourists and educational groups including students from Salisbury University, Washington College and International Chinese students.

The event is growing with participation from Native groups increasing yearly. Returning for his only presentation in Dorchester County in 2018 is Daniel Firehawk Abbott, coordinator of Native Interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg. The Pocomoke Indian Nation, a long time supporter of the Chicone Village will feature Chief Norris Howard in the work shelter. Other tribal groups invited to attend will include: Lenni-Lenape Manetu, Nause Waiwash Band of Indians, Philip Goldsborough, Mid-Atlantic Cherokee, Cheswald Lenape and representatives from the Maryland Commission of Indian Affairs.

Unlike other Pow-Wows held by Eastern Shore tribal groups, NHPA has devoted its education programs to early Native life as it was before the arrival of Europeans. Living History demonstrations will include cooking, weaving, chipping of implements and gardening with historic plants. There will be artifact displays by Terry Crannell and archaeologist Ed Otter, PhD who has done excavations at Handsell.

Handsell House will be open, including the basement Kitchen where the African-American story is represented. Admission is $2 to help defray costs and for maintenance of the Village structures. Additional donations are welcome. Open to the public. Information on both events can be found at www.restorehandsell.org.

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