Prehistoric Glover Park



Woodland Indians


Although now unrecognizable as such, a significant trace of the presence of Native Americans in Glover Park is its main thoroughfare. Wisconsin Avenue makes its first recorded appearance as a dotted line on a map drawn in 1712, showing an Indian trail from the future site of Georgetown, to what is now River Road, and thence to points north and west. On this trail, near what is now the Georgetown Safeway, one of the last violent encounters between a native and a European may have taken place, some time before 1720; an early Maryland deed speaks of a “bounded Red Oak standing at the end of the NNW line of a tract of land called The Rock of Dumbarton on the side of a hill near the place where Christian Gunnell was killed by the Indians”.

The story of the Piscataway Conoy people, the Indian allies of the Maryland colony, is beyond the scope of the history of a neighborhood that was no more than a distant corner of their territory (which included the District of Columbia, and extended upriver to the falls). By 1700 they had already had to choose between exile and assimilation. Those who chose the former were drawn into the orbit of the powerful Iroquois, and began a long migration through Pennsylvania and New York, before merging with those Mohawks who sided with the Crown during the American Revolution, and now reside in Canada.

Those that stayed in southern Maryland, allied by intermarriage with people of both European and African descent, were classified as “Free Colored” by the early censuses of the United States, and their Indian identity appeared to be lost. In the latter part of the 20th century, however, the Piscataway Conoy underwent a period of cultural revival, and in 2012 they were recognized as Native Americans by the state of Maryland.

(For the unhappy story of a handful of Native Americans, of various Southern tribes, who, in the early 19th century, were briefly guests on Georgetown Heights,  see Thomas L. McKenney and the Indians.)



Late Archaic People


Prior to the arrival of Europeans on the scene, and very likely stretching all the way back to the earliest human presence, habitation was generally concentrated on the flood plain, where the fishing was, and where Indians planted their gardens. There were prehistoric fishing camps near Potomac Avenue in Palisades––where the river narrows, and fish are easiest to harvest. A century ago antiquarians had already noticed that it was worth their while to search farm fields south of Conduit Road (MacArthur Boulevard), because plowing turned up so many artifacts there.

These amateur archeologists had also noticed ancient quarries in the streambeds and ravines of the tributaries of the Potomac River and of Rock Creek, where prehistoric prospectors had discovered seams of quartzite, or of steatite, exposed by erosion, that could be mined to produce hammers, knives, axes, drills, chisels, scrapers, arrow and spearheads, and pipes and bowls.

Unlike the later Woodland Indians, Late Archaic people did not engage in horticulture, and did not use the bow-and-arrow. Their weapon was the spear-thrower, or atlatl, which operated on the sound principle that a man would be able to throw a spear farther if his arm were longer. The atlatl was an arm extension, and the components for this weapons system were manufactured here.

Stones extracted in a ravine were turned into finished products on the plateau above the ravine. But for the extensive grading and filling that occurred in the course of residential development, Glover Park would therefore have been a likely place to look for archeological evidence––such as fire-pits and burial sites––of Late Archaic camps.

In the late 19th century the ravine behind the streetcar barn powerhouse at Calvert and Wisconsin was still of archaeological interest. Today the only relatively undisturbed Late Archaic quarries are in what is now parkland. But, as the ancient manufacturers naturally took the good stuff with them when they left, only an archaeologist would be interested in what they left behind. (Would-be antiquarians should also be aware that the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 makes it illegal to commit archaeology on public lands without a permit.)

To turn a rock into a useful object, it was reduced and shaped by chipping at it with other stone tools. Many rocks were rejected after only a few blows, if they didn’t break just right. Since prehistoric quarries and workshops were active for thousands of years, accumulations of such chipped cobblestones were plentiful in some stream beds in the District of Columbia. In the 1880s so many were carted away and used for surfacing city streets that the archeologist William Henry Holmes was led to observe that the nation’s capital was “paved with the art remains of a race who had occupied its site in the shadowy past”.





Map of the Potomac River, 1712, Christophe De Graffenried, Relation du Voyage d’Amérique, 1716, Library of Congress

Priscilla W. McNeil notes, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library, quoting Patents Liber IL#A, f.55 [Addition to the Rock of Dumbarton], 1720, Hall of Records, Annapolis


James D. Rice, Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009

Paul Byron Cissna, The Piscataway Indians of Southern Maryland: An Ethnohistory from Pre-European Contact to the Present, 2003

Stephen R. Potter, Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs: The Development of Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley, 1993

Robert L. Humphrey and Mary Elizabeth Chambers (afterword by Stephen R. Potter), Ancient Washington: American Indian Cultures of the Potomac Valley, GW Washington Studies, No. 6, 1977

James H. Merrill, “Cultural Continuity Among the Piscataway Indians of Colonial Maryland”, William & Mary Quarterly, Ser.3, Vol.36, 1979, pp.548-570,

Christian F. Feest, “Nanticoke and Neighboring Tribes”, Handbook of the American Indian, Vol.15 pp.240-252, Washington, 1978

Alice L. Ferguson and Henry G. Ferguson, “The Piscataway Indians of Southern Maryland”, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek, Maryland, 1960

Titus Ulke, “The Artifacts of the Potomac Valley Indians”, American Anthropologist, Vol.31, Issue 1, pp.122–129, January-March 1929

Samuel V. Proudfit, “Aboriginal Occupancy of the District of Columbia”, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol.25, pp.182-193, 1923

William Henry Holmes, “Stone Implements of the Potomac-Chesapeake Tidewater Province”, Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1897





Carlton Fletcher

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