Heater’s Island and the Piscataway Indians

Vandercastle and Harrison meet the Piscataway in 1699 (painting by William Woodward).

Vandercastle and Harrison meet the Piscataway in 1699 (painting by William Woodward).

    In chapter 17 of Oberlin’s Anomaly Sooleawa, sometimes known as Hannah Cassidy, tells the main characters, Jack Starkey and Sheila Cartwright that she was born on Heater’s Island near Frederick, MD in 1699.  She and other characters in the novel identify themselves as Piscataway Indians. Historically the Piscataway were first encountered near the confluence of the Potomac River with Piscataway Creek in southern Maryland in 1608 by Captain John Smith. The Piscataway moved throughout the area, sometimes found as far north as the foothills of Virginia.  

    Based on historical documents we have a picture of the Piscataway Fort on Heater’s Island.  In 1699, two emissaries of the Virginia governor, Vandercastle and Harrison, traveled to the island and found a fort some fifty to sixty yards square and containing and surrounded by cabins. It was estimated that approximately three hundred people men, women and children inhabited the settlement. 

    This group of Piscataway from Heater’s Island left Maryland around 1712, but there were other Piscataway Indians still living in southern Maryland where they continue to do so. Today, many in southern Maryland identify as Piscataway.  In 2012 Governor Martin granted state recognition to three separate Piscataway groups: the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy, the Piscataway Indian Nation, and the Cedarville Band of Piscataway.

    In Chapter 6 the fictional Piscataway Indians are encamped on the Potomac River above Georgetown, DC and below Little Falls near the modern day Fletcher’s Boat House. They have set up a temporary fishing camp to take the striped bass that are migrating.

Source material used with permission from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, 10515 Mackall Road, St. Leonard, Maryland 20685. https://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/SmallFinds/Site%20Summaries/18FR72HeatersIsland.htm
Author:  Dennis C. Curry