American Indians have lived in the Chesapeake Bay area for at least 12,000 years and were the first inhabitants of what is now St. Mary's City.
When English colonists arrived in 1634, the local Yaocomaco Indians made an agreement with them. The Indians gave the settlers land and the right to inhabit a small hamlet in exchange for English cloth and metal tools. The two groups lived side by side for the next several months.
The Yaocomaco people taught the new residents how to prepare fields and to grow corn and other crops. These basic skills provided the means for the colony's survival. While their relationship was generally peaceful, the pressure from European settlers seeking to occupy land eventually forced American Indians to move away from this region.
"...their chiefe care must be to make choice of ap lace first that is probably to be healthfull and fruitful, net that it may be easily fortified, and thirdly that it may be convenient for trade both with the English and savages."
Lord Baltimore's Instructions to the Colonists, 1633
Leonard Calvert agreed to give the Yaocomaco Indians "hatches, axes, hoes and some amount of cloth" in exchange for the land the colonists received.
This American Indian effigy pipe was
found at an archaeological site at Historic St. Mary's City. It was probably deposited thee around 1656. The pipe was designed so that the human effigy faced the smoker.
Yaocomaco Indians Living in St. Mary's River Valley for Hundreds of Years
Yaocomaco Indians Begin Relocation to Escape Susquehannock Indian Attacks
Colonists Arrive in Maryland and Reach Agreement with Yaocomaco to Occupy Abandoned Village
Yaocomaco Indians No Longer Inhabit St. Mary's River Valley
There are no known drawings by native people of the Chesapeake area that survive from the 17th century. This image of an Indian village is one of a handful of drawings done from a European perspective depicting Indian lifeways along the mid-Atlantic coast during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Yaocomaco witchotts (houses) may have been furnished much like this one when occupied by the English. The English probably used the structures in the same manner as the Indians, as a dry place to sleep and store goods, with most work and activities taking place outside.