"Blackfoot Indians", Blackfoot Town/Dagsboro, DE




Some background information about Blackfoot Town by Dick Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission:

From Dick Carter 16 Mar 2008
Subject: Sussex County's Native American community

I've read a number of recent e-mails about the view that the town of Dagsboro was known during its early history as "Blackfoot Town." As one person notes, the late Mrs. Evelyn Simpson cited this information in her history of Dagsboro (Blackfoot Town..Dagsborough..Dagsboro - A Geographical Biography of Dagsboro, Delaware) published, I believe, in the 1980s. The same information is reported in the 1938 Federal Writers Project volume, "Delaware - A Guide to the First State." I believe that both Mrs. Simpson and those who wrote the entry in the Delaware Guide probably got the information from J. Thomas Scharf's 1888 History of Delaware. As Scharf relied heavily on local collaborators for his detailed information about the various hundreds, the "Blackfoot Town" name was probably an item of established local tradition even in 1888.

I have to say that, although I am in no position to dispute it, I've never seen an authoritative primary source proving that the "Blackfoot Town" moniker was in fact used in the early 18th Century. If the area which became Dagsboro after the arrival of John Dagworthy was once known as "Blackfoot Town," I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact, cited by another writer to Lower Delmarva Roots, that the area between what is now Dagsboro and the Great Cypress Swamp was then far muddier than today (before drainage ditches had become common) and the mud was black. So if you walked around in it, you got black feet.

I do dispute the theory, which I've also heard from time to time, that there was some connection between the "Blackfoot Town" designation and the "Blackfoot Indians", which I gather were a small sub-tribal group of the Teton Sioux who entered the historical record of the American West somewhere in the mid-19th Century and are said to have gotten their name from the fact that they wore black moccasins.


From Dick Carter 2 Feb 2008
Subject: Dagsboro/Blackfoot Town and Indian Branch

With regard to "Indiantown Branch," I believe it may be what is now known as "Irons Branch," in Dagsboro Hundred, southwest of Millsboro and northwest of Dagsboro, although I always saw it referred to historically as "Indian Branch." It is a historical fact that the Maryland Assembly designated a reservation in 1711 for local Indians in the general vicinity of what is now Millsboro. This land was purchased from the Indians in two separate transactions by William Burton of Somerset (as opposed to the different William Burton who obtained title in 1677 to the land which later became Whitehouse Farm on Long Neck) and his son, Joshua Burton. They bought the two tracts from the Indian Wassason and the "Indian Queen" Weatomotonies between 1736 and 1743. William's tract, Indian Lands, amounted to some 600 acres in its final form and lay on the southern edge of what is now Millsboro. His son, Joshua's, tract, known as "The Queen's Swamp" in honor of Weatomotonies, lay to the southwest of Indian Lands, out toward the area known today as Hickory Hill. The stream which bounded these two properties on the south was known historically as Indian Branch, but later became Irons Branch in honor of a local gristmill owner. The Indian Lands tract in particular was the same property set aside by the Maryland Colonial Assembly in 1711 as a reservation for the Native American group then known locally as the "Indian River Indians."

I believe I am correct in saying that this was part of a Native American group that had originally lived in the general area of Assateague Island and Sinepuxent Neck in what is now Worcester County, Maryland--they were possibly an offshoot of the larger Assateague Tribe. In the late 17th Century, in the face of ever-greater pressure from English settlers, remnants of this group moved up to the vicinity of Dirickson's Creek near Little Assawoman Bay, in what is now southeastern Sussex County, and still later to the south side of the upper Indian River. The sale of these lands to the Burton family some 25 years after the 1711 Act of the Maryland Assembly is one of the last identifiable actions of this tribe found in Sussex County records before local Native Americans entered a period of several generations of official oblivion, only to reemerge in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries with Anglicized names and the usual designation in county records as "mulatto" or "colored." This is not to suggest that they were not always there, even though the white establishment clearly tried to minimize that fact. I've even been told that one probable member of what is now the Nanticoke tribe was a member of the Delaware militia contingent that fought in the French and Indian War.

As most are aware, Sussex County's Native American community were ultimately able to reclaim their proper cultural identity and were legally recognized as the Nanticoke Indian Tribe by the Delaware General Assembly in 1881. Native Americans of all varieties were under intense pressure during this period on Delmarva from the ever encroaching white settlers. This was the same period in which many of the original Native American inhabitants of Delmarva left to join more powerful groups like the Iroquois in Pennsylvania and New York, ultimately making their way over the generations into Canada. My theory is that the modern Nanticoke Indians centered in the Indian River Hundred area on the north side of the Indian River are probably derived from a number of the early tribal groups including both the more numerous Nanticokes of western Sussex and adjacent areas of Maryland, the so-called Indian River Indians, and possibly other tribal groups as well.

The late C.A. Weslager may have dealt with some of these matters in greater detail in his 1983 book, "The Nanticoke Indians--Past and Present." I've been kicking myself for the past 25 years for not buying when it first came out and it's now out of print. I have read his earlier book about the Nanticokes, "Delaware's Forgotten Folk" (1943), but Dr. Weslager told me in 1983 that he had written the later book to correct some errors in the first one.


From Dick Carter 17 Mar 2008:

I have been able to retrieve the email message I referred to in my email of last night. It reads as follows:

To Dick Carter February 03, 2008
Subject: Indian Town Branch

I believe there must be two places called Indian Town Branch. I was wondering if you have anything to prove differently to me.

In the publication about the Sound Methodist Church, they state that the original church was built at "the head of the Sound" near the Indian Town Branch. The original church was located at now Johnson Corner; on the opposite side of the road and just a few hundred feet from where Tunnell's Store was located (not the old store there at the current time). Also in a newspaper article in The Sussex Post, Millsboro, Delaware May 8, 1991, Dennis Forney writes "... The church was named Sound Methodist Episcopal Church because it was built at the head of Indian Town Branch which fed into Dirickson Creek. Dirickson Creek which empties into Little Assawoman Bay, features some broad areas at its upper end. In earlier times when the world was preceived on a smaller scale, this water was locally called 'the sound.' Another branch flowing into Dirickson Creek is known as Williams Creek.... ".

In the publication that you wrote in 1976 (and also in your last post to LDR), you tell of how the Native American lived for a while in the Dirickson Creek area. Don't you think it possible that this area could have been called Indian Town?

I have heard of arrow heads being found on a piece of land that is now the corner of Rt 20 (Rt 386) and Rt 54. The arrow heads were supposed to have been found near the pond where the sand pit was located. Also, arrowheads were found when doing excavation for one of the additions to the Roxana firehouse (either late 70's or early 80's). There was also a tomokalk found just west of Rt 17 between Roxana and Selbyville when the grandfather of the current owner was plowing the field. There had to have been Native American activity in the area.

I replied thusly:

Thanks for your email. I thought I remembered having seen an Indian Town Branch around Sussex somewhere, but couldn't remember where. Then, when I read all the stuff about Dagsboro, I thought - and still think - that they were confusing that with the Indian town known to have existed southwest of present day Millsboro which I referred to in my email.

I think your theory about the Indian town Branch referred to in the vicinity of the Head of the Sound is very likely. There probably were Indian settlements in that area. I do wish someone would do a really in-depth study of the movements of the various Indian groups in and around Sussex County during the late 17th Century and up to the middle of the 18th Century.

Speaking of arrowheads, I've always been interested in how the rock got here. I remember when I was working for the old Delmarva News back in the early 1970s, a couple of Millsboro boys found a cache of spear points in the dirt hole behind Thorogood's concrete plant between Millsboro and Dagsboro. As I recall, there were 25 or 30 of them. The state archaeologist stated at the time that it was a cache that had been buried for safe keeping something like 1,000 years ago by an itinerant Indian trader who went around trading spear points to local Indian tribes. Something happened so that he never got back to retrieve them. They identified some of the stone from which the spear points had been made as having come from known rock formations as far west as the Rocky mountains and theorized that they had been traded across the continent. I remember the realization dawning on me then that the Native American culture that existed here before European settlement was a whole lot more complex and sophisticated than I had ever imagined.

Then, on Memorial Day weekend of 1999, I was walking along the surf with my daughter at Cape Henlopen and saw something that looked like a black arrowhead. I picked it up and at first thought it must be a fake. The next day I took it up to Dover and showed it to Dr. Cara Blume, an archaeologist who works for the Division of Parks and Recreation. Cara told me the type of stone it was made from and said that it came from a rock formation up along the Pennsylvania-New York border in the general vicinity of Williamsport, Pa. She said that it was smoothed rather than being sharply faceted like most arrowheads because it had been washing around in the ocean for thousands of years being smoothed by the abrasive effect of the sand. She told me the period of the arrowhead and said that it dated from around 2,000 B.C. She said that it had probably been shot at an animal back at a time when the coastline was miles farther out than it is today. Over the passage of time the ground where it lay had eroded into the ocean and then it eventually washed up where I found it. So I brought it home and gave it to my daughter as a keepsake.


From Brenda (bsam@sssnet.com), who writes regarding "BLACKFOOT & Mitsawokett", 1 Aug & 31 Dec 2003 --

I have Linda's permission to share a thread from the Saponi group discussing the possible relationship of the old Blackfoot Town/Dagsboro to the Blackfoot we are interested in. As Ned wrote an informative article on the area, I had hoped there were those on the list who may know something about our Blackfoot or the old Blackfoot Town and help verify the connection.

...Blackfoot Town (Dagsboro) was very near Millsboro. Although I believe it was Maryland at that time, it is now Sussex County, Delaware. The history of the Indian River Indians here supplied may interest you.

...Although the name was changed to Dagsboro in 1785, the Maryland Archives, Volume 0192, Page 0119 still uses that name when calling for a road to be constructed from Somerset to Blackfoot.


From Linda Carter (
MINGO-L@linux08.UNM.EDU) 1 Aug 2003
"BLACKFOOT & Mitsawokett A 17th Century Native American Community in Central Delaware"

I thought I'd seen Indian River mentioned before. I'll quote from a post on the www.saponitown.com message board. The gentleman writing this is an academic, a historian I believe, who lives in Chicago and carries the Blackfoot identification in his family. He goes by the pen name of Bess Veney. This is the only piece of solid historical documentation pairing the Saponi/Tutelo with the Blackfoot monicker I've yet to hear of.


Bass Veney writes:

Saponi/Tutelos were indeed located near Dagsboro/Blackfoot Town prior to 1747. The writings of J. Thomas Scharf, the noted Historian of Delaware,(1) places the Saponi/Tutelo amongst other tribes inhabiting the southern part of Delaware (most likely Sussex county) in the 1700s. Here is what Scarf says in 1880:

"The ...Scackamaxons, Tutelos, Nanticokes and many others occupied the lower country toward the coast, upon the Delaware and its affuents."(2) We don't know exactly how this group of Saponi/Tutelo ended up in this area, but the solution of that problem can be taken up at another time. The main point is that the Tutelo according to Scharf were in lower Delaware at an early date.

Another citation places Saponi/Tutelo in the vicinity of the South Delaware in 1742. Tutelos (recorded as Totra) residing at Conoy town, Lancaster county, PA, along with Seneca, Shawnee, and Nanticoke, were a part of a famous plot for an Indian uprising in lower Delaware, at the portage of the Indian River area and the Pokomoke river on the MD/DE border. The name of the place was Winnasoccum. Apparently, groups of Indians at Conoy Town, including the Tutelo, did travel to the MD/DE border. Here they met some of the local Nanticokes and "Indian River Indians" to put the plan into action. Details on this plot are recorded in the Maryland Colonial records. Here is what is said about these events in testimony on June 30, 1742:

"Letter No. 78:
Maryland ss | Dochester Co. | The Examination of Jacob Pattasahook, one of Nanticoke Indians taken before me one of his Lordships Justices of the peace for the County aforesaid saith about a month ago this Examinant was at Coney Town on Susquehana River and was told by the Indians of said Town that the Senaca and Totra Indians in Conjunction and by the advice of the French had agreed to Cut of the English Inhabitants in Pensylvania Maryland and other adjacent parts of this Continent and the Indians in Somersett and Dorsett County and to that End the Senaca Indians were soon to go to Philadelphia to Dispose of some part of the Lands for Arms and Ammunition and haveing so done the Senaca, Totra, and other Indians were in roasten Ear and Apple time to fall upon the Back Inhabitants and at the Same time the French who was to come by Sea, were to Land on the Sea bond side of Somersett County in order to meet the said Indians, and further this Examinat Saith not, his June the 30th 1742 Jacob [c Pattasahook Certified by Henry Trippe marke"

After the plot was foiled most likely some of the Tutelo stayed on in the area. So by solid historical accounts, around 1742, Saponi/Tutelo Indians were near the region of what later became known as Blackfoot Town. The multi-tribal population of this area decreased over time but a remnant survives to today. It is established as the Indian River Hundred Nanticoke organization and has an office and museum in the town of Millsboro, which is a few miles form Dagsboro

In the 1930s and 1940s, several government ethnologists visited the Indian River Nanticoke population living near Blackfoot Town. C.A. Weslager, the noted researcher on the Lenni-Lenape and Nanticoke Indians interviewed a Joshua Hitchens on Oct. 25, 1941. When asked about his genealogy, Hitchens said his father's family "were members of the Blackfoot Tribe."(3) Weslager did not endorse this statement of tribal affiliation nor did he try to openly attack it. Instead, he tried to claim that the Blackfoot tribe identification, in question, resulted from Blackfoot Town being a place name. Of course it is ludicrous to claim that the Blackfoot tribe spoken of by Hitchens has nothing to do with Indians, given that Blackfoot Town sat on Indian River. Indian River has been known by this name since 1640 in court records of Worcester County, Maryland, and later in Sussex County, Delaware. "Indian River Indians" who in fact were an amalgamation of the Nantcoke, Assateague, Saponi/Tutelo and others, appear in county documents and Maryland colonial records as early as 1700. Pulling this all together, what makes sense is to recognize that

1. The Saponi/Tutelo Indians who lived about Indian River were responsible for name "Blackfoot Indians" mentioned by Hitchens.

2. Because they lived there, the "Blackfoot Indians" gave their name to an Indian town located along Pepper creek, a tributary of Indian River, which later became known as Blackfoot Town. Blackfoot Town is the result of contact with the Blackfoot Indians not vice verse.

Linda's overall point is correct on Blackfoot Town in Delaware. However, the exact location is off by many miles. Blackfoot Town/Dagsboro is located about 100 miles directly east and slightly south from the point she mentioned in western Maryland. Blackfoot Town sits on the headwaters of "Indian River". This river and the area around it is located in what was formerly Somerset and Worcester counties, MD, but with changes in the state boundaries about 1763, it is located in what is today Sussex County, Delaware. One needs to get a map of Delaware and focus on the southeast coast along the Atlantic Ocean. Indian River dominates the geography of Sussex county. Its headwaters are inland about 20 miles in the swampy marshes near the MD border, and it flows from west to east and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Dagsboro sets on a creek flowing into Indian River. It is a very remote area, even today, and the largest town near Dagsboro/Blackfoot Town is Georgetown.

Linda, despite the error in location, your main point on timing is absolutely correct. The Blackfoot Indians living at Blackfoot Town/Dagsboro, DE, in 1747 predate, come before, the fictional diffusion of the so-called Western Blackfoot "ID" into the Southeast during the 1880s. Also, this group of Saponi Blackfoot Indians (1747) predate the first appearance of Sihasapa Lakota Blackfoot in European and American records, which did not occur until about 1851. Prior to that, the precursors of the Sihasapa are known to us only by the names of leading families which at that time are living within other groups, i.e., with the Yanctonies.

The Blackfoot represented by the Saponi and the Sissipahaw appear in records way before the western Blackfoot, the Sisksika and the Sihassapa Lakota. Your observation that the Eastern Blackfoot is older than those in the west is supported by facts. All this points to the reality that the Eastern Blackfoot identity developed on a local basis in the Southeast and was not imported. True there were some cases of actual migrations of Sihassapa individuals and families into the Southeast during the 19th century. But they can be fairly recognized through genealogy research and are extremely small in number. Their presence cannot account for the wide spread existence of the Blackfoot ID in the Southeast.


1. J. Thomas Scharf History of Delaware 1609-1888, L.J. Richards & Co. (1888) vol. 2, 1888, p.20
2. Ibid Scharf:20
3. Weslager,, C. A., The Nanticoke Indians— Past and Present, University of Delaware Press, Newark, p.198.








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