Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Direction in an Age of Confusion
Nanticoke Nation Indian Thanksgiving
Last year, I posted my Indian heritage blog on the veteranpathwayshome.org website. It seems fitting to reflect a reminder of our founders and the indigenous peoples view as a previous post Columbus Day. I'm recognizing the ‘other side’ of my family is appropriate today: Thanksgiving, a history of America from another perspective.
Few people realize that as my father’s family settled in the American colonies, with my ancestor Matthew Lyons (1746-1822) as a native of County Wicklow (Ireland), emigrated to Maryland, became a colonel in the American army, and eventually a member of Congress. The family motto “Noli irritare the leones” translated means ‘Do not irritate the lions.’
My mother’s ancestry is, ‘Nanticoke’ Indian, as natives of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Dorchester County, where my father also resided. Eventually meeting, marrying and became parents of a little girl they named ‘Sharon’ meaning ‘Princess’ or ‘Rose of Sharon’, (Hebrew origin & Meaning ‘Desert Plain’). Rose of Sharon, also described as ‘Her friendship is a precious gift, her look is romantic and inspiring, flexible, with the ability to change. She’s a priceless jewel to her family, believes friendships are forever. She’s admired for her pleasant nature. She enjoys being generous with others and can reason herself out of any difficulty.’ My middle name Irene means ‘Peacemaker’. Thoughtfully, I reflect on the message of ‘Thanksgiving’ and its history based on ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ where these settlers, as they are now commonly known, upon their arrival from England to ‘America’ (Year 1620) began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth Massachusetts. It was a disastrous winter for settlers newly introduced to New England brutal cold winter, and only half of the Mayflower’s passengers survived until early spring. It was when a Native American, Squanto, Abenaki Indian (member of the Pawtuxet tribe), who’d been kidnapped by an English sea captain, sold into slavery, escaped to London, then able to return ‘home’ via an English expedition exploring ‘their new territory’ life changed dramatically. Squanto, speaking English, was able to understand the plight of the new settlers, hunger, scurvy, and disease, so showed them empathy, kindness, and generosity. Teaching them how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He was a ‘Peace Maker’ helping them forge alliances including the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than half a century, so in my opinion became an ‘Ambassador of Hope’. Upon the Pilgrim’s first corn planting was successfully harvested in November 1621, the new English Governor William Bradford, announced a feast, celebrating the successful, co-existence and community with the new colony members and Native American allies. The annual feast is now known as ‘Thanksgiving’. So I feel honored as a ‘half-Nanticoke Indian’ with tribal history in Maryland, to introduce yet another, story of a successful history of ‘American Indians’ peacefully co-existing with what some would call ‘invaders’ or ‘immigrants’. It was Captain John Smith and a party of fourteen Englishmen who set out from the Jamestown (VA) settlement, in an open boat, to explore water passages throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and found a tributary from the bay into the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The area contains nine counties known as Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester also containing three counties that constitute the state of Delaware. Smith’s crew faced danger of storm squalls, rough waves, loss of limited food supplies, shortage of drinking water, and possibility of surprise Indian attacks. Six of the boat passengers were English gentlemen, four soldiers, a physician, a crew inclusive of a blacksmith, fishmonger, and fisherman. Later, Captain Smith published the story of his travels, but also within his work, mapped the territory of that mainland including Virginia and the Eastern Shore, in 1612. As Smith’s crew made landing on the Maryland shores, he was prepared for hostile Indians, he was well- armed with swords, guns, and ammunition, but equally prepared for ‘peaceful’ trade cargo of glass beads, small metal bells, looking glasses (mirrors), copper ornaments and other merchandise. Arriving on the shore of the Pocomoke River, surviving a severe storm, food and water gone, met the members of the Wighcocomoco (Wicomico) Indian tribe. They aided him with fresh water, and food, so Smith was able to sail back into the bay, then continued northward. Enduring another storm, worse than the previous, Smith seeking harbor, finally entered another tributary, the Nanticoke River. Then and today, the territory of the Nanticoke tribe encompasses Eastern Shore Atlantic areas of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. The Nanticoke were linked to the tribe of ‘Kuskarawoaks’ (village), who upon Smith’s arrival, with first sight of the ‘white’ men, shot arrows from trees-- falling short of the mark- the craft and crew. Kuskarawoaks were recently victims of numerous attacks by other Indians. Indian territory was often contested among the nations, as even the ‘Six Nations’ Iriquois attempts at conquest were assisted by the Spanish explorer in those assaults. The Indians had reason to think these ‘white’ strangers were the same ones. However, Smith’s party anchored in mid-river for the night; the Nanticoke as most traits of Indian culture, decided that these English were not a threat, and on the following morning arrived on shore, carrying blankets, baskets of corn and food, and danced in a ring on shore, gesturing the men to join them on the river beach. Unfortunately, fearing trickery, the men fired weapons, killing and wounding several, while other tribe members escaped. Captain Smith decided to land, in need of food, went upstream and found empty Indian longhouses (pole lodges) and left an offering of copper pieces, glass beads, and looking glasses in each one as a token of friendship. Re-boarding their craft, sailed down-stream to anchor for the night. Morning light, a canoe appeared with four Indians heading toward them. Smith indicated ‘friendly greetings’ and was met by same. These Indians had not been attacked by explorer strangers, and other hostilities were forgotten. The Nanticoke Indians, as numbering as guides and warriors, plus many other tribal members and villages on the Nanticoke River, the total Nantiocke Nation population far exceeded any of the other tribal groups on the Eastern Shore. Their vast reputation as ‘best Merchants’ established successful trade commerce relationships throughout the region, as the Nanticoke Nation included multiple states, waterways, and tribal villages/name, and through the early years of the colonies. Successfully and peacefully existing with the new settlers, while maintaining their own land, homes, and commerce. As a registered tribe member of the Nanticoke Nation with authentic roots in the history of attending ‘pow wows’, and ceremonials, I also celebrate ‘Thanksgiving’ noting the holiday celebration is important to us as well. It’s not a just another holiday -- for Pilgrim & Indian recognition, but also in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, and all people across our country sharing a common ground, Our Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution blessings. As an Ambassador of Hope, today I’m simply sharing mindful wanderings of history and providence, directing our attention to celebrating peace and hospitality. Key-noting that when instead of recriminations and bitterness, when Forgiveness happens... peaceful conflict resolution, mutual goals and objectives that result in fairness and justice, the respect to differ in opinion with one another helps us become wiser. Then we can truly Believe in One Nation, under God, undivided with liberty and justice for all.