Ababco tribe

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The Ababco were an eastern Algonquian tribe or sub-tribe.

Alternate spelling: Ababeves, Abapco, Abaco, Babcoe, Abanvo

The Ababco originally lived on the Choptank River in Maryland when first encountered by Europeans. They were first mentioned by by Thomas Bacon in his Laws of Maryland, published in 1765, as having been connected with the Hutsawap and Tequassimoe, as a distinct tribe.

Later historians believed them to be a division of the Choptank tribe, which consisted of three divisions: the Ababco, Hutsawap, and Tequassimo. They were not mentioned in John Smith’s documents of his exploration of Chesapeake Bay in the early 1600’s. By 1837 the entire tribe had dwindled to a few individuals of mixed Indian and African blood.

Ababco was the name of one of the chiefs (werewances) of the Choptank Indians when the earliest white settlers arrived. He and his people lived in the area extending from Sandy Hill Point (west of Cambridge) to El Don (currently Bonnie Brook) including present-day Cambridge, the land for which the English paid 40 matchcoats to the Indians.

The name of their “king” soon began to be used by the settlers to indicate the band of people that he led and even his village (“King Ababco’s Town”).

When the whites arrived, the Ababco probably numbered about 1600 persons. Along with the other two chiefs of the Choptanks, Hatsawap and Tequissino, Ababco signed the first treaty with the settlers in 1669, and in 1671, signed the act granting the Choptank Reservation {McCallister}. In 1676, along with Hatsawap and Tequissino, Chief Ababco acted as a mediator between the English and the Nanticoke “emperor” Unnacokasimmon.

At the time of the signing of the treaty of 1669, the Choptanks were menaced by the Delawares (Minquas) who had formed an alliance with the remnants of the Wickamisses. Their principal enemies, however, were the Senecas (Northern Indians) who made prisoners of the Choptanks and carried them off, probably for adoption. In 1683, some fourteen Choptanks were returned to their homes on the intercession of the English, but others seem to have been retained. About this time a daughter of King Ababco was released.

In 1681, Chief Ababco was asked by the Nanticoke tyac to join him in a war on the English, an offer which he declined (Marye). After the death of Ababco, his son Netgughwoughton and Chief Tequissino were consulted by the English as to the election of an emperor of the Nanticokes (McCallister).

Their chief in 1701 was Winicaco, after whose death circa 1720, his people became more and more dissatisfied within the limits of their reservation. Some began to move away to new homes in greater forests with broad hunting grounds and more game, farther away from the whites who continuously invaded their reservation and “influenced their young people to adopt more vices than virtues” (Jones).

When all the Choptanks were living on their reservation, the distinctions between the bands rapidly began to disappear. All mention of the Tequissino as a separate group ceases after 1722, and the Hatsawap are not mentioned after 1727. In a deed of November 1726, the Ababco and Hatsawap were called “the 2 nations.”

After the death of her father, Chief Winicaco, Betty Cacoe became “queen,” and her name appears as such on a deed dated 1722 (McCallister). She was still queen in April 1727 when her name was given as Betty Carco over her “X” on a deed. Sadly, she is to be remembered as the leader who sold off much of what was left of the Choptank Indian Reservation.

Soon after the reservation had been granted to them, the Choptanks began selling it off in lots to settlers. From 1692 to 1720, most of the reserve had been sold in fourteen separate deals (Maryland Archives, McCallister). In 1719, an Indian named Tom Bishop complained to the Maryland Assembly on behalf of the Choptank Indians that the English “encroached greatly upon the lands of his people, so that they are now driven into a small narrow neck called Locust Neck.”  In 1755, the Choptanks were described as ”reduced to a small number, chiefly old, crippled, or sickly” (Speck).

Diseases of the Europeans brought to the Indians inadvertently and to which the Native Americans had little or no resistance probably were the major cause of Choptank deaths. Finally, as their lands dwindled, sustenance became difficult and many doubtless died of malnutrition which also left them more prone to disease. Aside from the “gifts” of the whites of tuberculosis, smallpox, and venereal diseases, chronic alcoholism also took its deadly toll.

When their neighbors, the Nanticokes, left for the north in 1744, some of the Choptanks probably left also, but most seem to have stayed. One reason the Choptanks lived on as long as they did in the area was the fur trade. Even when game became so scarce as to be impossible to trap or hunt, the Choptanks stayed on long past when their neighbors had left, probably because they got along with the settlers much better than did the Nanticokes.

In 1792, William Vans Murray submitted a few ethnological notes and a vocabulary which had been collected at Locust Neck Town to Thomas Jefferson. He stated that the tribe had dwindled to nine persons living in four genuine old wigwams thatched over with cedar bark. They were governed by a queen, Mrs. Mulberry. Winicaco, Chief Ababco’s son and their last chief, had died about 75 or 80 years before and his body was kept preserved in a mortuary house (Speck).

In 1801, Mary Mulberry died and her 20 acres were sold by the state. In 1856, a Maryland act states that the land set aside in 1799 for the Choptanks “has long since been deserted by them, and the race has become extinct.”

The land then “lay in an unimproved and dilapidated condition” and was sold. A small remnant was retained by the State and sold to the Dorchester County Board of Education on April 7, 1870 for the use of the public schools (McCallister).