USNA Midshipman to visit Chicone Village

VIENNA – The United States Naval Academy’s Native American Heritage Club (NAHC) will visit Handsell, a National Register Historic Site in early spring for an overnight camping trip at the Chicone Village. USNA’s NAHC is open to all Midshipmen, regardless of ethnicity.

In addition to creating a supportive community for Native American Midshipmen, the club aims to help educate the Brigade about the diversity across Native American cultures and the long, storied history of Native American service to the US Military. Native Americans have and continue to serve in the US Military at a higher percentage rate than any other ethnicity.


Some of the NAHC’s activities have included: hosting Peter MacDonald, the President of the Navajo Code Talkers’ Association, for a lecture at USNA; engaging in an annual tri-academy visit with cadets from USMA and USAFA’s Native American Heritage Clubs, and volunteering at the Baltimore American Indian Community Center.

For the last two years, the NAHC has visited Handsell for the annual Chicone Village Day. It was during last year’s trip that the NAHC and Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance (NHPA) President Midge Ingersoll began to plan the upcoming camping trip, certain to be the highlight of the USNA-NAHC’s 2019 schedule. A kayaking trip of the Chicone Creek is being arranged by Blackwater Adventures during this visit.


Chicone Village Day is held every year at Handsell in honor of the Eastern Woodland People who once occupied the ancient Chicawan (Chicacone, Chicone) Village located in the area including Vienna and north up the Nanticoke River.

During John Smith’s 1607-08 circumnavigation of the Chesapeake Bay, Smith wrote in his journals that the area which he called Emperor’s Landing (near present day Vienna-Chicone Creek-Nanticoke River) was the largest Village occupied by Native Inhabitants that he had encountered during this time.


In 1678 the Lord Proprietor of Maryland formally acknowledged by proclamation, the existence of the Eastern Shore Indian towns, including Chicone on the Nanticoke River. “Chicone, one of the largest Indian villages, already contained some land patented by the English. The patents were held by men who had no interest in displacing the native people who lived there. At Chicone, the patent was held by Thomas Taylor, formerly a licensed Indian trader and then a high ranking military officer who was usually the person sent by the proprietor to deal with the Nanticoke “emperor” during this era. Taylor had acquired rights to a tract of land in the heart of the Chicone Indiantown called “Handsell.”

The patent encompassed the main Indian residential sites within the town lands and it is likely that these were friendly patents held by Taylor to protect the Indian towns from other Englishmen. (Ref: Eastern Shore Indians of Maryland and Virginia, by Helen C. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson, p. 108, 113)


In 1721 a serious conflict arose between the Indians and the English, after the heirs of Christopher Nutter sold their land grant for the Handsell tract to a Dorchester County planter named John Ryder (Rider). Ryder almost immediately tried to seize the 700 acres of Handsell, including the site of the former Nanticoke Fort among whose inhabitants was William Ashquash, son of Ashquash, the Nanticoke emperor.

Ryder burned down William Ashquah’s cabin and destroyed his fences, claiming that the Indians had abandoned the land, even though they were known to leave for short periods of time for seasonal hunting. The Maryland government sided with the Indians, and ordered Ryder off the reservation. (Ref: Eastern Shore Indians of Maryland and Virginia, by Helen C. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson, p. 149)


By 1742 continued English encroachment caused the Nanticokes to all but abandon Chicacone town. In 1768-69 the Reservation was dissolved by the Maryland Colony after a request from the heirs of John Ryder, including granddaughter Ann Billings Steele, wife of newly immigrated Englishman Henry Steele. The Steeles acquired a 484 acre tract of Handsell and it is believed that they began the large brick plantation house on the site at this time.

Some of the Native People of Chicone immigrated north to Pennsylvania, New York and Canada, while others simply assimilated into either black or white communities in lower Dorchester and Wicomico.


Chicone Village Day at Handsell is being held this year on April 27, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and will feature Daniel Firehawk Abbott, Native Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. Firehawk designed and supervised the construction of the Chicone longhouse or lodge and work shelter now maintained by a faithful group of volunteers led by Zeke Willey, NHPA Trustee. Firehawk returns once every year to Dorchester for the annual Handsell event.


For more information go to www.restorehandsell.org.

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