Daniel Firehawk Abbott, of the Nanticoke people, is a Native American interpreter and was one of the key people in building the longhouse at Handsell. Photo: Jill Jasuta

Living History: Chicone Village Day on the Nanticoke River

Chesapeake rivers like the Nanticoke have influenced humans for hundreds of years—such a long time it‘s difficult to imagine their day-to-day lives.  Once in a while, though, an opportunity comes to do just that. On Saturday, April 30, the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance will offer its 8th Chicone Village Day at Handsell, the historic property at 4837 Indiantown Road, Vienna, Md. (about 70 miles south of Annapolis over the Bay Bridge or 15 miles north of Salisbury). This will be a day of hands-on experience in the lives of the Nanticoke’s native people.

From around the year 1000 well into the 1600s, this land along the Nanticoke and its tributary Chicone Creek formed the center of a large community of Nanticoke Indians of the rich Eastern Woodland culture. They hunted the forests, farmed the land, foraged foods in the marshes, and fished both the creek and the river. Captain John Smith and his crew visited “the Emperor of the Nanticoke” here in June 1608 on their first voyage of exploration that summer. Fifty-seven years later, military officer and licensed “Indian trader” Thomas Taylor received a patent for Handsell, 700 acres of Chicone land where he lived, served as a Dorchester County justice, and functioned as an envoy to the Nanticoke people.

Fast forward nearly four centuries to 2005, when the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance purchased the property “to interpret the Native People’s contact period with the English, the enslaved and later African American story, and the lives of all those who lived at Handsell.” Nine years ago, the Alliance built a replica longhouse, work shelter, and garden to celebrate the Native culture that once existed on this Chicone Village site. Since then, the Alliance has celebrated Chicone Village Day every year (except the pandemic years of 2020-2021.)  

For living history, Chicone Village Day will include conversations with Daniel Firehawk Abbott, a member of Dorchester County’s Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians and retired coordinator of Native Interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg; two drumming demonstrations by the Nause-Waiwash Band; learning about Native life skills with members of the Pocomoke Indian Nation of Crisfield and the Lenape Tribe of Delaware and New Jersey; a foraging walk for wild foods and herbs valuable to the Nanticoke/Chicone people; cooking demonstrations and a Native-inspired lunch; an exhibit of Native pottery and Indiantown artifacts; hourly showing of Voices of Indiantown, a 25-minute documentary film; and a children’s demonstration of Native farming practices. An admission fee of $5 per person helps defray costs and maintenance of Village structures. The Handsell Native Lunch costs an additional $10 per person. 

You can delve further into the Nanticoke River waterfront in Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s April issue, which sheds more light on why this river system was so valuable to Late Woodland native people for hundreds of years.

-John Page Williams