Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Founding of St. Mary’s City:
The Colonists and the Yaocomaco

At the time of the colonists’ arrival to what is now St. Mary’s City in 1634, the Yaocomaco were reportedly in the process of relocating North due to Susquehannock raids in the village.
According to Father Andrew White, the Yaocomaco “had the yeere before our arrivall there, made a resolution, for their safety, to remove themselves higher into the Countrey where it was more populous, and many of them were gone thither before the English arrived” (Hall 1925:74) (Clash of Cultures 189).
Reportedly, the Yaocomaco “readily received the English, freely giving their houses to the colonists” (Cissna 1986:133). The Woodland Indian Hamlet at Historic St. Mary’s City depicts how St. Mary’s City would have looked within the first 9 months of the English colonists’ settlement during which time the colonists lived among the remaining Yaocomaco, inhabiting abandoned witchotts.
Inviting the 200 colonists to assume the land they had called home, the Yaocomaco shared their culture and lifestyle with the English settlers, providing them with guidance in self-reliance to survive in the Southern Maryland climate. The two co-existing groups exchanged various aspects of their respective material culture out of necessity and convenience, though both continued to adhere to tradition rather than assimilate.†
The similar but different ways of life of the colonists and the Yaocomaco are represented in the two witchotts in the Woodland Indian Hamlet at Historic St. Mary’s City. The longhouse witchott depicts how the Yaocomaco most likely lived at the time of the colonists’ arrival where as the smaller witchott (intended to accommodate a nuclear family unit) contains English colonial furnishing that would have been common for a colonist’s witchott home.
In a letter to his brother Lord Baltimore, Lord Calvert describes a great demand by colonists for the Yaocomaco sleeping mats. It is also known that the Yaocomaco tribe’s Yeocomico pottery and access to beaver skins were often used in trade.
The Yaocomaco sought English materials out of necessity rather than monetary motivation, desiring metal English tools and linen which were provided to the Yaocomaco in exchange for the land.
“To avoid all occasion of dislike, and Colour of wrong, we bought the space of thirtie miles of ground of them, for axes, hoes, cloth and hatchets, which we call Augusta Carolina. It made them more willing to enterteine us, for they had warres wth the Sasquasahannockes, who came sometimes upon them, and waste and spoile them and their country, for thus they hope by our meanes to be safe” (42) Father Andrew White, 1634.
The Yaocomaco who remained in the village to assist the colonists in settling in the area vacated the settlement within the year following the harvest of the tribe’s crops.

          Though missionary Father Andrew White succeeded in “converting” (rather, baptizing) several Yaocomaco, the Yaocomaco acceptance of the baptisms was likely solely to cement an allegiance with the colonists and had little real impact on the religious or cultural beliefs and practices of the Yaocomaco.

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