Accomac, Onancock, Wachapreague – everyday we encounter place names that remind us of the people who were the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s only human residents prior to European contact. The Heritage Center at Eastern Shore Public Library has several resources available for researching the history and cultures of Native Americans in Accomack and Northampton counties. Below is a very brief survey of some of those resources.
There are several gazetteers in the Eastern Shore Room for researching place names like those above, including the very thorough and well annotated Powhatan Indian Place Names in Tidewater Virginia by Martha W. McCartney and Helen C. Rountree. Rountree is the recognized authority on the tribes of Eastern Virginia and her book Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland is the best place to start for information on those who lived on the Shore as well as the Powhatan Confederacy that they were linked to. Rountree is professor emerita of Anthropology at Old Dominion University and has written several books on this subject which can be found at ESPL.
The Heritage Center has several papers by C. A. Weslager, a writer and historian of Delaware whose research covered the cultures of the entire Delmarva Peninsula. Of particular interest is the paper he presented to the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society at Central High School in 1959 entitled The Accomac and Accohannock Indians From Early Relations which was printed by Francis Latimer’s Hickory House Press in 2001.
Race and class in colonial Virginia : Indians, Englishmen, and Africans on the Eastern Shore During the Seventeenth Century by J. Douglas Deal is a classic for understanding how the different cultures coexisted on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. And Pocahontas and the English Boys: Caught Between Cultures in Early Virginia tells of four key youths and the influence of their cross-cultural relationships, including Eastern Shore settler Thomas Savage, who as a boy was given to Powhatan by Captain Christopher Newport.
The Heritage Center also has items that view the Shore’s original inhabitants through the lens of their material culture. A Study of First People of the Eastern Shore: Archaeological Evaluation of the Thomas Wharf Site (44NH1), Northampton County, Virginia and The Emerging Story of Long-Term Human Adaptation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore: Results of an ‘Artifacts Road Show’ hosted by the Nature Conservancy, both by Dennis Blanton, are a good start.
After European settlement of the Eastern Shore, the documentary evidence helps us understand how the multiple cultures coexisted. The late historian Frances Latimer writes about the Gingaskins in reference to her own family tree in The Journal of a Multiracial Family : Six Generations of the Eastern Shore Francis Family, and Kirk Mariner gives a history of the Gingaskin reservation in Slave and Free on Virginia’s Eastern Shore: From the Revolution to the Civil War.
Mariner also created a timeline of events, a “Who’s Who” of Native Americans appearing in various sources, and a timeline of conflicts between colonists and the Shore’s Native American population. This valuable resource is the first text item from the Heritage Center’s Kirk C. Mariner Collection that has been digitized and it is now available on the Heritage Center Website.