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February 2001

Cunningham Family

On Saturday, August 3, 1678, probably somewhere between the present Trent Hall Farm and Golden Beach in Mechanicsville, a small band of Indians attacked the farm of Daniel Cunningham early in the morning, killing him and the brother of Mrs. Cunningham while they were working in the field.  His wife, who was in the house, was tomahawked in the head. She was found four days later and taken to the home of her father, Thomas Edwards.  Mrs. Cunningham was unable to speak, but was able to signify that there were four Indians involved. When her mother, Mrs. Edwards, said that she believed the “rogue”, Wassetass was the one responsible for this attack, Mrs. Cunningham indicated that he was.  Mrs. Cunningham died on August 9.

 John Burroughs, a neighbor of the Edwards family, was present when Mrs. Cunningham was brought to her father’s house and on the following day gave a deposition to Governor Thomas Notley relative to the events that had occurred.  Because Wassetass was a Piscataway Indian, it was determined that this tribe was responsible for the murders. 

Governor Notley and the Council immediately ordered Major William Boarman to go to the Piscataway Fort and meet with the Emperor and other elders of the tribe.  His orders were to make them think that the Council wished to meet with them relative to a number of requests that had been made by the Piscataways the previous week and that they were now ready to respond to those requests.  A meeting was to be held on August 19 at Manahowick Neck (located on the Wicomico River).  This is where the home of Governor Notley was located!

Major Boarman was further instructed that if the Indians seemed to doubt that this was the purpose of the meeting, he should then tell them about the murders.  It appears, in reading the record, that one of the reasons the Piscataways had met the previous week with the Governor was to ask for help because several of their tribesmen had been killed by some Senniquo and Susquehanna Indians in violation of their treaty with Maryland (the treaty required that these tribes were to keep the peace with the Pisacataways).  

On August 10, the Governor and Council wrote a letter to Lord Baltimore advising him of the course of events in this case and advising him that it was their belief  that war with these Indians was inevitable.  The letter was signed by Thomas Notley, Philip Calvert, Baker Brooke, and Benjamin Rozer.

In preparation for what the Council believed to be an impending Indian war, Maj. Henry Jowles was ordered to raise a company of men for the security and defense of the inhabitants at the head of the Patuxent River.  Maj. Jowles recruited 60 men, but the Council felt that only half that number were needed, so 30 men were sent home.  Of the remaining force, 20 men were to be distributed among the plantations along the river for the defense of the houses and the other 10 men, under the command of Capt. Ninian Beall, were to roam about the head of the Patuxent River.

To their credit, the Council ordered that while the inhabitants should defend themselves in case of attack, no soldier or civilian was to commit any violence against the Indians.

On August 19, at the appointed time, the Piscataways, represented by Nicotaghsen, the Emperor; Ouquintimo, the Speaker; Chotike and several other Choptico Indians met with  Governor Notley, and the Council, consisting of Philip Calvert, William Calvert, and Baker Brooke.  Maj. William Boarman served as interpreter.

The Indians were presented with the facts involving the murder of the Cunninghams by Wassetass and three more Indians. 

--There was no evidence that there had been any “foreign” Indians in the area. 

--The day of the murder, Mr. Cunningham’s clothes, hat, bundle of matchcoats and tobacco was taken from the house.  That very same day, three Piscataway Indians were seen within two miles of the house; three of them being painted.

The Indians were reminded of the treaty made with them some 12 years before which required that if one of their tribe murdered an Englishman, the perpetrator was to be surrendered to the Marylanders immediately.  If, on the other hand, a Marylander murdered one of the Indians, the Marylanders dealt with it.

Chotike, in behalf of the Indians present, answered that they were very troubled about this murder but that they did not know who was responsible.  They stated that they were aware that the English had always been their greatest friend and without the aid and protection of the English from their enemies, they would be “most miserable, expecting nothing but death”.  They promised to “make strict inquisition” amongst their young men and to return on August 27 to give their further answer.

The Council then immediately ordered that the men under the command of Maj. Jowles and Capt. Beall continue in service and that Anne Arundel troops (commanded by Col. Thomas Taylor) and Charles County troops (commanded by Capt. Randolph Brandt), each to select 20 men, to continue ranging and to scour the heads of the rivers and other places on the frontiers of their respective counties.  It was also ordered that the men who were not actively serving were to tend the crops of those that were.

At a Council held at Manahowickes Neck Plantation in Wicomico River the 27th day of August, 1678.  Same participants as the week before.

The Piscataways responded that they had not known about the murders in question until the week before.  They stated that they had made a diligent inquisition amongst their young men but did not find out who the responsible party was.  The Council immediately dismissed the Piscataways, again reminding them of the requirement, under their treaty, to turn over the felon to the Marylanders.

The Governor and Council immediately went into action to prepare Maryland for war with the Indians.  A meeting of the General Assembly, which had been scheduled for February of the following year was rescheduled to October 20.  The Sheriffs of the Counties were instructed to post a public proclamation to their inhabitants that a levy would be assessed for the protection of the Colony. 

In the meantime, other murders were being committed by Indians.  Three Englishmen were found dead on the east side of the Susquehanna River.  David Williams and his family, of Somerset County, had been killed.  These murders had happened about the same time as Cunningham family and  a Nanticoke Indian who had been found guilty of murder, had escaped and was said to be among the Rappahanock Indians in Virginia. 

This unnamed Indian was the prisoner of Capt. Gerard Slye, High Sheriff of St. Mary’s County “out of whose custody the said Indian prisoner, through negligence of his keeper escaped”.  Capt. Slye was ordered to take two Choptico Indians and go to Virginia, retrieve the prisoner and take him to his (Slye’s) house and keep him securely there until the Governor signed a warrant for execution and then “he is to be immediately put to death without any further respite”.

As a result of the on-going murders, further troops were called out in Calvert County, Cecil County, Kent County, Baltimore County, and Dorchester County, sufficient in number to “let the Indians know that we are awake and watchful”.  Inhabitants were instructed that upon the appearance of any enemy (that is any Indian), they were to fire three shots, “after the ancient manner”, and that every house answer the alarm by firing one gun and then immediately go to the place where the three shots had been fired to render assistance.  Extra guards were put into place at Mattapany to guard the weapons and ammunition that was stored for the defense of the Colony.

In the midst of these on-going problems, the Council was advised that the freemen of Charles County were determined to elect Josias Fendall as their representative to the General Assembly prior to October 20, despite the fact that he had been barred from holding any public office.  The Sheriff of Charles County was directed to instruct the freemen that they might choose Mr. Fendall as their representative, but he would not be admitted to sit in the Assembly.

The General Assembly convened on October 20 as planned and stayed in session until November 15, with Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore (who had been in England) in attendance.  It was agreed that Lord Baltimore would meet with the Piscataways himself; that he would remind them that when he left Maryland they gave him assurance of their friendship to him and the people of this Province and he gave the same assurance to them; that he is heartily glad to see them and hopes that their reciprocal friendship remains the same.  He will speak to them in relation to their encounter with the Susequehannas and their protection; he is now ready to receive their positions, consider them, and give them a good answer.

On December 13, 1678 a peace treaty was concluded and agreed upon by Charles, Lord Baltimore, the Emperor of Assateague, the Kings of Pokomoke, Yingoteague, Nuswattax, Annamesse, and Acquintica, Morumsco and all of the Indians under their control to last to the “world’s end.”  This treaty has a number of interesting provisions:

--The Indians who signed this treaty agreed to deliver any Indian enemies of the English as prisoners to them.

--Since the English cannot tell one Indian from another, no Indian was to come into an English plantation painted.

--All Indians were to call out loud before they came within 300 paces of any Englishman’s ground and lay down their arms.

--Any Englishman who kills an Indian who complies with the above provisions shall die for it, as well as an Indian that kills an Englishman.

--If an Indian and an Englishman accidentally meet in the woods while hunting, the Indian must immediately throw down his arms. If he refuses, he shall be deemed an enemy.

--If any of the Indians who are party to this treaty kill Ababco or any of his Indians, it is as great an offense as killing an Englishman.

--If any foreign Indians come into Maryland and commit any crimes, the parties to this treaty are responsible.

--If they have knowledge of any other murders; who killed David Williams and his family, there are hereby engaged to deliver them up to the next Magistrate.

--The Indian parties to this treaty will deliver at the plantation where William Stevens in Pokomoke now lives called “Rehoboth”, six Indian arrows yearly by the 10th day of October as an acknowledgement of Lord Baltimore’s dominion over them and also as a pledge of peace.

On January 30, 1679 a meeting was held by Lord Baltimore and Council with the Emperor of the Piscataways, who brought with him (among others) Azazames, and Manahawton not knowing that the Marylanders now believed that these two were part of the group responsible for the murder of the Daniel Cunningham family.  When confronted with this information, the Emperor again stated that none of his Indians were responsible for this crime.  Capt. Gerard Slye and Lt. Thomas Courtney were ordered to take Azazams and Manahawton into their custody and secure them until further order.

Lord Baltimore told the Emperor that Mrs. Cunningham had identified these two as having attacked her family, along with another Indian.  Now, if you will recall, it was stated that Mrs. Cunningham had never spoken prior to her death and only signified that the family was attacked by four Indians. 

The other person involved in the murder, namely Wassetaw, was identified and it was demanded that he be delivered to the Marylanders.  The Emperor, again, flatly denied that any of his Indians had been involved.

The Emperor and the other Indians left to meet alone taking with them Maj. Boarman and Mr. John Stone. While they met, the Council voted to immediately execute Azasames and Manahawton. 

When the entire group reconvened, the Indians, through their interpeter (Maj. Boarman) stated “formerly we were in the dark but God has now opened our eyes.”  They agreed to the seizure of Azazames and Manahawton as murderers of the English and agreed to turn over Wassetaw.  They stated they could not turn over the fourth Indian as he had been killed in a recent encounter with the Susquehannas.

Lord Baltimore assured them that he did not believe in his exposing his enemies to a lingering death and as such he would have a speedy execution.  After the Indians had departed the room, the Council found Asazams and Manahawton guilty of the murder of Daniel Cunningham and his family.  Lord Baltimore issued an order that they be shot to death that evening at Manahowickes Neck Plantation.

By the Lord Proprietary and Council “Ordered that Capt. Gerard Slye, High Sheriff of St. Mary’s County take into his custody Azazams and Manahawton, two Piscataway Indians, and cause them forthwith to be shot to death without delay.”

The next day, January 31, the Council met again.  The discussion was about whether they should demand the delivery of Wassetass, the other murderer, he being accused by Manahawton himself yesterday in the presence of the Emperor and others before he was executed; and that Wassetass was the only one accused by Mrs. Cunningham herself before her death.

Major Boarman was directed to go the Emperor of the Piscataways who agreed to deliver Wassetass to Col. Benjamin Rozer within 10 days.  A warrant of execution was immediately prepared.directing Col. Rozer to shoot Wassetass as soon as he was taken into custody.

As of March 10, Wassetass was still living!  Apparently the Piscataway tribe had intervened on his behalf and begged the Marylanders not to kill him.  Lord Baltimore declined to answer this plea until he met with an Indian who had come to the Piscataway Fort from the Sinniquas.

James Smallwood was directed to give notice to the Piscataway Indians to meet with the Council at Governor Notley’s house on March 17 and to bring the Indian with them.  Thomas Baker of Charles County was directed to attend as an interpreter and if he could not come, then Maj. William Boarman of St. Mary’s County was to be present.  The Indians were told that if they came to his meeting, they would be given an answer relative to Wassetass. 

For whatever reason, the meeting was not held until March 19 and was attended by Lord Baltimore, Thomas Notley, and the Speaker and great men of the Indians of Piscataway.  Thomas Baker served as interpreter. 

Lord Baltimore expressed his concern that the Emperor was not there as he was going to  deliver his answer about the fate of Wassetass.   The Indians responded that the Emperor was too sick to attend.  They told him that the Emperor, his great men, and other members of the tribe all believed Wassetass to be innocent of any murder committed on the English at Patuxent.  Lord Baltimore then advised them that he was granting their request by “giving them the life of this person, hoping that for this favor they would give their young men good advice and counsel to carry themselves civilly towards all the English”.

The Speaker, on behalf of the Indians earnestly thanked Lord Baltimore who responds that he will confirm pardon in writing of his own hand.  The Indians approved and told him that although they could not read yet, they would be sure to preserve the document and make much of it.

Written by: Linda Reno, 01/25/2001

Did you know that...

Sylvester Stallone briefly attended Charlotte Hall Military Academy?

Roy Rogers’ real name was Leonard Franklin Slye and that he was a descendant of William Slye who died 1766 in Calvert Co.?

Francis Scott Fitzgerald (aka F. Scott Fitzgerald), author of “The Great Gatsby” was a descendant of Philip Key and Susanna Gardiner of Chaptico, St. Mary’s County?  His great grandmother was Eliza Maynadier Key, born January 28, 1792 in St. Mary’s County, the daughter of Philip B. Key and Rebecca Jowles Sothoron.

Stevens Thomson Mason (1811-1843), the first Governor of Michigan, was the great grandson of Abraham Barnes of Tudor Hall, St. Mary’s County?  He became Governor at the age of 24 and was known as “The Boy Governor”.  Mason County, Michigan is named for him.  

Mary Mason, another great granddaughter of Abraham Barnes was the wife of Benjamin Howard (1760-1814), the first Governor of Louisiana (Missouri) Territory, 1810-1812 and then Governor of the Missouri Territory 1812-1813?  Howard County, Missouri is named for him.


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