Recalling the early European explorers

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published in “Dorchester Tercentenary: Bay Country Festival,” in 1969. The book was edited by Tom Flowers.

Neary 1,400 square miles of land and water actually comprised the area between the Nanticoke and the Choptank Rivers. This same parcel of land would later be divided into Dorchester, Caroline, and parts of the Delaware counties of Kent and Sussex.

This same tract of land was later referred to as a part of “Old Somerset” or a part of the tract of land known as the “Easterne Shoare.” In 1661, Lord Baltimore established a commission to grant lands in that part of the province called the “Easterne Shoare.”

The area was well defined in this commission as all that parcel of land lying to the south of the Choptank River, bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and westward by the Chesapeake Bay. From this area four separate counties were later created: Somerset in 1666, Dorchester in 1669, with Worcester and Wicomico being erected at much later dates.

Since Somerset was created three years prior to the erection of Dorchester County, there is a possibility that Dorchester could have been included in the boundaries of Somerset. There is a lack of evidence that this was the case, although later findings may verify the fact.

Capt. John Smith, Dorchester County’s first European explorer, sailed up the Nanticoke River in 1608, noting the vast tracts of white pine, oak, sassafras, and gum; the the abundance of wild game, the countless miles of marshy creeks, inlets, streams, peninsulas and islands.

Leaving the Nanticoke River, Capt. Smith passed through Hoopers Straits and thence across the Chesapeake Bay to the western shore. A reason has been offered for his failure to enter and sail up the Chopank River: islands long since eroded camouflaged the river’s entrance.

According to Capt. John Smith’s estimates, there were about 600 Nanticoke Indians living in the five towns on the Nanticoke River: Kuskarawaock, the largest town and the seat of the chief; Sarapinagh; Nause; Arseek; and Nantaqual, which may have changed later into the English word “Nanticoke.”

The Nanticokes were called the Kuskarawaoks or the great merchants by Capt. Smith. The initial meeting with the Kuskarawaoks and Capt. Smith was snot friendly; the Indians showed their dislike by firing volleys of stone-tipped arrows.

Indeed, according to Smith’s accounts, the Indians tried to ambush the crew by offering baskets of food. Later, as a result of a chance meeting with some Kuskarawaoks who had been fishing, amiable relations were effected with the tribe.

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