Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Native Storage Pits Found at Fletcher's Boathouse in 1997

 Archaeology done at Fletcher's Boathouse in 1997, before some parking lot construction, located more than 8 large Native storage pits. They seem to have been dug sequentially at roughly the same time, more than 2000 years ago. One theory for their use was that Natives travelling upriver, got to the falls on the Potomac, and stored their excess goods in the pits, before portaging their canoes upstream.

Yet another fascinating piece of DC Native History that goes untold at Fletchers and elsewhere in the city!

Here's a story that ran about the site in the Washington Post, Nov 1, 1998. B6.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Name of DC's Native Tribe – How “Anacostan” Grew Out of the Original Mistake, “Nacotchtanck.”


In the summer of 1608, when Captain John Smith and his mapmakers sailed up the Potomac to the area where Bolling Airforce Base now sits, they labeled the Piscataway tribe they found there, “Nacotchtanck.”

The proximity of this tribe to the confluence of a second river that joined with the Potomac (now “The Anacostia”) put them in a choice location to be traders, and the name Nacotchtanck was meant to mean “a town of traders.”

Within 20 years of the publication of Smith's map, Father Andrew White, who came to the colonies to convert the Natives along the Potomac in 1634, changed the name used for the tribe of traders by adding an “a” sound to beginning of the name. This led to a number of variations for the name among the other English settlers, but one of the most popular derivative forms became “Anacostan.”

White studied the Piscataway dialect of the Algonquin language, so he could preach in their native language. He noticed, as have other commentators after him (Tooker, 1894), that the word for “a town of traders,” would be "anaquashatanik" which is based on the Algonquin word, “anaquash,” meaning "to trade," and "tanik," indicating a town.

Public interest in the Native tribe of DC often starts with reference to Captain Smith's 1608 map, and it isn't hard to find citations online with the name “Nacotchtanck,” or a variation of that name, including the entry on Wikipedia (2022).

The 1894 article by Tooker, cited above, points out that Captain Smith never used the spelling from his map when he wrote about the tribe. He did use 5 other names: Nacotchtanke, Nacothtank, Nacotchtant, Nacotchtanks, and Necosts (Tooker, p. 391).

The error in the original name isn't surprising, since Algonquin languages do not have an alphabet, Smith's mapmakers couldn't just ask “how do you spell that?” Variations on the names of Native tribes are common. A 1787 document on the transcription of Native languages by English settlers includes a comment “almost every man who writes Indian words, spells them in a peculiar manner…” (Edwards, 1787).

The Native Americans weren't the only group who got their names mangled by local English speakers. For example, the Amish people who migrated from Germany and settled in Pennsylvania would have told English speakers they were “Deutsch.” Now, the Amish are commonly referred to as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”

Since the name “Anacostia” refers to a major neighborhood and river in Washington, DC, referring to its Native tribe as the Anacostans (Tayac, 2004) pulls together these names, and helps listeners understand their association.

Bottom line: Forget the map name! Remember the Anacostans!


Jonathan Edwards, Observations of the Language OF the Muhhekaneew Indians. Communicated to the Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences (New Haven: Josiah Meigs, 1787

Tayac, G. 2004. Keeping the Original Instructions. In Native Universe: Voices of Indian America, McMaster G, ed. p. 77-8.

Tooker, WW. On the Meaning of the name Anacostia. Am Anthrop., os VII, 1894, pp. 389-83.

Wikipedia. Nacotchtank. May 2022.

(note: The wiki spelling is not the same as seen on the map. Anacostine is a variation of Anacostan, with an added “i”, which does not occur in any of the original forms of the name.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Proudfit's 2nd Native Village - On the grounds of the US National Arboretum (Details!)

 This is the portion of the 1973 application of the US National Arboretum for status as a National Historic Place:

In 1934 a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was built at what was 28th & M Sts, which sat between what is now the lower Arboretum and the top of the Langston Golf Course. It was during their work that the artifacts mentioned above were found. Contacting DC Historic Preservation to locate those artifacts is an upcoming project!

 This DC Historic sites page for the USNA also mentions the Piscataway, which would be the Anacostans:

“Most of the original, centuries-old forested landscape of the arboretum remains preserved, and evidence indicates that in past centuries the land housed Piscataway Native American habitations and, later, 19th century spring houses.”

The site in the Arboretum is about 1 mile from the Benning area on the east side of the Anacostia, where Proudfit did a lot of his collecting. It's reasonable to speculate that he did some searching on the west side of the Anacostia and found an assortment of artifacts that indicated a Native village on what is now Hickey Hill in the US National Arboretum.


So this is another piece of DC Native History that has been available to the public for more than 50 years, but just not discussed.
I'll be contacting the US National Arboretum to see if we can get a public showing for the artifacts and the story of the Anacostans who once lived there.
To be continued...

Monday, December 6, 2021

Proudfit Identified 2 Native Village Sites Inside DC - The 2nd Seems to Be Located on the Grounds of The US National Arboretum

In his 1899 article on Ancient Village Sites in Washington, DC, SV Proudfit said there were 2 sites. One was on the former Carroll Estate, the second "southeast of the Reform School on the Ancostia."

Here's how he marked it on his map:

Based on the topographic maps from the late 1800s, there was a hill, Hickey Hill, around that spot. 

Over the years, the land in that area was farmed in various spots, but largely undeveloped until it was bought in the 1920s to create the US. National Arboretum.
Here's how the area from thia 1890s map corresponds to the current map of the US. National Arb.

During the last week, I've been trying to contact the person at the Arboretum, which is part of the Dept of Agriculture, who is responsible for the archaeology done there.  

More details when I get them!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

NAHD 2021 Video: Where in Washington, DC Can You Learn about the History of its Native People, the Anacostans?

 As a status report on the Native history of the Anacostans in DC, here is a 6 min. video that summarizes sites that exist in 2021. If any readers know of others, please be in touch!

Video link:

Sorry to say, Maggie, but 100 years later, this is still true!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Recent and Upcoming Happenings

This blog has gotten a bit neglected recently. The FB DCNHP page seems to attract more attention. But this is a great place to do a liesurely summary of what has been happening and may happen regarding the Native history of DC!

 - Chasing after Bolling for the last 2 years may eventually pay off! A friend found an ad on an antropology website that they're trying to hire a person with an archaeology background for the air bases in the DC area and part of their work will involve dealing with Native American issues! 

- On Dec. 1, Piscataway leaders will be meeting with the DC Water people to hear their plans to incorporate Native history into the materials they produce for the public and mark some of their sites to include Native history (they have properties near Bolling AFB and Soapstone Valley). \\

- An effort to expand the name of Garfield Park to Garfield-Anacostan Park is being presented to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in Dec (or maybe Jan.) A member of Charles Allen's staff has offered support in presenting a successful vote by the ANC to the full City Council! 

- The Sept. Washington Post article led to a number of additional presentations about the "Hidden Native History of DC," including a few high schools, an Oasis group based in Bethesda, and the Art Club of Washington.
Coming soon! A video for Native American Heritage Day on the status of where you can find some public mention of the Ancostans in 2021 DC.