The Nanticoke Indian tribe was an Algonquian-speaking North American Indian people who lived on the eastern shore of what is now Maryland and southern Delaware. The name “Nanticoke” means “tidewater people.”
The Nanticoke people were part of the larger Powhatan Chiefdom, which also included tribes such as the Pocomoke, Choptank, and Assateague tribes. Before colonization by the English, they were skilled farmers and fishermen, and their village sites have been found along the Nanticoke River, Wicomico River, and other waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.
During the early colonial period, the Nanticoke people had contact with European settlers, particularly the English. Relations between the two groups were generally peaceful, but as the number of European settlers in the region increased, the Nanticoke people began to lose control of their lands and resources.
In the 1600s, many Nanticokes began to migrate away from their original homeland.
Nanticoke Indians have a long history with early 17th century colonists and were culturally similar to Lenape people, whom they considered elder kinfolk. They supported the British during the American Revolutionary War, but afterwards lost much of their power and land.
In the 18th century, the Nanticoke people faced increasing pressure from European settlers. They were forced to cede their lands and move to reservations, or to assimilate into European-American culture. This included the forced removal of Native American children from their families and communities to attend boarding schools, where they were forced to adopt European-American customs and ways of life.
By the 1800s, many had settled along the banks of Indian River Bay in what is now Delaware. Today, most of their descendants still live in parts of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Southern Delaware, where they continue to teach about the history and culture of this small, indigenous nation through tribal gatherings, educational programs, museums, and more.
Despite the significant challenges and losses they have faced, the Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Maryland has not disappeared. The tribe is officially recognized by the state of Maryland, but they are still working towards federal recognition.
The Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Maryland continues to exist today and actively participate in various cultural and community events, to raise awareness and educate people about their history and heritage. They also preserve their traditional customs and practices, such as hunting, fishing, basket-making and traditional dances.
The Nause-Waiwash tribe, numbering roughly 300, is an offshoot of the Nanticoke tribe. They are centered in Wicomico County, also along the Chesapeake and its many tributaries.