The Accohannock Indian Tribe was originally a sub-tribe of the Powhatan Nation. The Accohannock Indian Tribe is one of the oldest historical tribes in Maryland.
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The Tribal Office is located in Marion, MD, a small town just north of Crisfield. The Accohannocks originally inhabited the territory they called Accomack which, after colonization, became the Eastern Shore of Old Virginia and is presently the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. The territory included the Chesapeake Bay home villages on the Annemessex River at present day Crisfield, MD, on the Accohannock Creek in Virginia and on the islands in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Accohannock Indian Tribe is an Algonquian-speaking sub-tribe of the Powhatan nation. The bands of the Accohannock were part of the Accomac Confederation. They were the first watermen, hunters, farmers, and trappers on the Chesapeake Bay waters and wetlands. They harvested food from the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries. They grew squash, maize (corn), and other Native American foods. The Accohannocks also were great hunters of waterfowl, deer, rabbit, squirrels, raoccoons, bear and elk.
Rapid changes in colonial policy beginning in the sixteen forties, caused much, dispersion and assimilation, which weakened, then dismantled and prohibited the culture. The Chief and the government were forced to cede all authority and lands to the King of England and Colonial powers representing him. With the loss of its land, self-government and other aspects of the tribe were destroyed.
Unlike many Native Americans who fought the white settlers, the Accohannock Indian Tribe was a peaceful one. The tribe managed to build a strong relationship with the settlers. The settlers took most of the land from the Indians on the Western Shore rather than the Eastern Shore. This is why the Accohannock had such a good rapport with the settlers. After Powhatan died, his brother, Opechancanough, took over his chiefdom. He hated the white man and decided to rid his land of the intruders. He developed a plan to poison their food and wells to kill them. The Accohannock Indian Tribe was encouraged to participate in the plan, but refused. The Accohannock people actually warned the colonists of Opechancanough’s plan. The plan failed. As a result, Opechancanough, decided to reject the Accohannock Indian Tribe.
In 1659, the Maryland Accohannocks’ name was changed to Annemessex, the name of the river where they lived. Some of the Tribe left the land but a remnant remains even today. According to oral tradition, the Clan Mothers prayed for peace and survival and received a vision to follow Pocahontas, to marry their daughters to the white colonists in order to hide in plain sight, survive and preserve the tribal bloodlines until in the fullness of time the tribe could be reborn. Clan names survive today and many of the tribe’s people live in the same area as those who originally inhabited Maryland.
Today’s Accohannock Tribe
Currently the Accohannock Indian Tribe, Inc. is a non-federally recognized Tribe and an IRS 501(c)(3) organization incorporated in the state of Maryland. The Accohannock Tribal Council, the governing body of the Tribe, meets every month to discuss Tribal business. A Tribal Association also meets monthly to discuss Tribal activities. Most of the Tribal members are fifty years and older, and grew up living off the land and water, and learned traditional skills and technology. Today, only a few descendants of the Accohannock Indian Tribe are able to continue the traditional occupations of their ancestors. Most members work in small family businesses or at local minimum wage jobs.
The Accohannock Indian Tribe hosts the annual Native American Heritage Festival and Powwow the first weekend in May. During the rest of the year, members of the Tribe travel to powwows in Virginia, Delaware, and North Carolina to participate and to vend authentic Native American crafts. Tribal members also make presentations to schools and civic groups throughout the year.
Legal Status of the Accohannock Indian Tribe
In 1995, the Accohannock Indian Tribe submitted its first grant application to the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) in Washington, DC in order to obtain federal recognition. The process can take between two and eight years.