Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Yoacomaco:
St. Mary’s First Residents

The native residents of what is now St. Mary’s City were the Yaocomaco, an independent Piscataway Indian clan of the Seccowocomaco tribe- a tribe that lived near present day Choptico. The Yaocomaco were of Algonquian lingual and Eastern Woodland cultural origin. They were probably living near the St. Mary’s River to take advantage of the natural resources of the region as well as potential trade with other natives and Europeans such as Henry Fleete who traded for beaver furs on the Potomac and its tributaries. Residing on either side of the river, the Yoacomaco tribe who lived in St. Mary’s City previous to its settlement were a hunting and gathering tribe, dependent on the seasonal local agriculture for survival.

“The Piscataway and Patuxent peoples…lived in towns, although subsistence requirements necessitated seasonal movement to interior hunting camps and regular coming and going from the towns” (Clark 119). A large component of the Yaocomaco diet, hunting was the chief occupation of men in the tribe. The most commonly hunted animals included deer, reptiles, shellfish, and most importantly fish such as sturgeon and striped bass.
Seasonal harvests of corn, beans and squash made up the majority of the Yaocomaco diet along with native seeds, fruits, and roots harvested nearby by the women of the tribe. A staple of the Yaocomaco way of life, corn was of the utmost importance to the tribe so much so that the destruction of a corn crop could be punishable by death.
The appearance of the Yaocomaco was described in detail by the colonists who observed and lived among them. Taller and displaying better health than the average European, the Yaocomaco were reportedly “tawny”-skinned with black hair which was often worn in two long locks on either side of the head.
Colonist John Lawson describes a tradition of body pigmentation among the Yaocomaco, explaining they would “dawb themselves with Bears Oil, and a Colour like burnt Cork. This is begun in their Infancy, and continued for a long time, which fills the Pores, and enables them better to endure the Extremity of the Weather” (Rountree 54).
Red and blue pigments would likewise be used on the face “mixed with oil, to keep off the mosquitoes,” according to Father Andrew white, a missionary colonists. And women would often have tattoos on the face, breasts, arms, and legs.
Making use of the abundant resources available, the Yaocomaco often wore animal (specifically deer) hides as loincloths and aprons  in warm weather and as mantles and leggings with linen trade shirts in colder months as well as moccasins and fur. Both men and women wore jewelry made from shell, bone, copper, stone, clay, and pearl beads as well as small animal parts for decoration.

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