What’s in a place name? Exploring the history of Piscataway Park and Accokeek Creek Site

Before European settlers invaded their lands in the seventeenth century, Indigenous communities of different sizes, languages, and cultures existed throughout present-day Maryland. Algonquian peoples, including the Piscataway, Conoy, and Mattaponi tribes, lived and traveled along the Potomac River, from the Chesapeake Bay to present-day Washington, D.C., including in nearby Accokeek, Maryland. Early travel accounts of white colonizers, like the journals and maps of Captain John Smith, identify geographic names that designated the Native peoples, cultures, and languages of those places. Many of these Indigenous words, such as Chesapeake, Patapsco, and Wicomico, still mark the landscape today. Accokeek, for example, derives its name from the Algonquian word for “at the edge of the hill,” and the neighboring Potomac River is named for the Patawomeck tribe that lived along the waterway’s southern bank.

Black and white photo of entrance sign: "Moyaone Reserve." A forest of trees is behind the sign and an unpaved road lays before it.
Entrance to Moyaone Reserve, circa 1957

Just as Native place names endure, so do Native communities and sites of their local cultural heritage and historical significance. Accokeek, Maryland is home to Piscataway Park, named after the local Piscataway tribe and divided into seven areas, including the Moyaone Reserve, a present-day residential community. In 1922, husband and wife Henry and Alice Ferguson purchased the land upon which Moyaone Reserve rests as a rural getaway from their daily lives in Washington, D.C. Interested in the history of the land, the Fergusons initiated archaeological digs beginning in the 1930s. These digs unearthed evidence of Indigenous presence in the area extending back thousands of years and gave the area its name. Moyaone (pronounced Moy-own) translates to “home place” and was an important village of the local Piscataway tribe, which John Smith visited in 1608 and is believed to have been situated near the present-day Moyaone Reserve.

Black and white aerial photo of the Moyaone Reserve mid-excavation, circa 1936. The land is mostly untouched except for a crescent strip that appears to have been stripped and excavated.
Aerial view of Moyaone excavation site, 1936

The Moyaone Reserve residential community as it exists today was formed in 1953 when the Fergusons donated their land to the newly established Moyaone Company. The Moyaone Company began publicly advertising five-acre lots for sale and promoted a “rural retreat lifestyle” to potential buyers tired of nearby citylife. A 1957 Almanack and Guide published by the Reserve’s community promises “no billboards, no bulldozers, no 28 flavors of ice cream,” just “completely unspoiled backwoods.”

New residents of the Moyaone Reserve strived to maintain this rural landscape. In 1955, community members and local environmental activists successfully protected the wooded areas adjacent to the Reserve from a commercial utility development project and initiated efforts to establish the Reserve and surrounding areas as a protected national park. The Moyaone Company’s image of an “unspoiled” forested haven spoke to a desire to preserve the landscape and foster community, but it also risked forgetting the original Native communities who were separated from their ancestral lands by centuries of warfare, relocation, and genocide. The Moyaone Company sought to recreate a community not dissimilar to the original Piscataway village of the same name, but Indigenous representation and input were still not formally recognized in this community planning process.

A page from the 1957 Moyaone Reserve Almanack and Guide that excerpts a Washington Post article ("Moyaone Prohibits Bulldozers") describing the Moyaone Reserve's successful endeavor to stop a nearby development project.
Dedicated to preserving the land (and its view of nearby Mount Vernon), Moyaone Reserve residents and local environmentalists successfully stopped a nearby development project. Washington Post article, circa 1955, reprinted in the Moyaone Reserve’s Almanack and Guide (1957).

In 1966, the Indigenous Moyaone site, today called the Accokeek Creek Site, was designated as a National Historic Landmark; the National Park Service identifies this site, near the Moyaone Reserve residential community, as one of the “most important sites for understanding the Native American societies of the East Coast.” This designation seeks to protect the site’s burial grounds and affirms the historical presence and continued resilience of local Native communities, particularly the Piscataway tribe. ​​By the 1690s, Piscataway land in present-day Prince George’s and Charles Counties had been seized by English colonists and occupied by Maryland planters.While many Piscataway migrated outside of Maryland, others stayed and formed the ancestors of the current local Piscataway community.

Piscataway Chief Turkey Tayac, a local leader and activist who advocated for Native self-identification and cultural reclamation, helped lead the charge to designate Moyaone as a historic landmark and supported the establishment of Piscataway Park, which united the Moyaone Reserve, Accokeek Creek Site, and other nearby areas. Piscataway Park, a patchwork landmark for local environmentalists, historic preservationists, and Indigenous communities, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Chief Turkey Tayac passed away in 1978 and, with permission from Congress, was buried in the ossuary site at Accokeek Creek in 1979. While this historic landmark recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples that lived along the Potomac River centuries before the arrival of European settlers, its preservation likewise continues to unite and be shaped by local Native peoples, affirming their continued presence and ties to the land.

France Payne Bolton (left) wears a large fur coat and Chief Turkey Tayac (right) wears a suit and an Indigenous feathered headdress. Both smile and stand to the left of a sign for "Piscataway Park." Black and white photograph.
Piscataway Chief Turkey Tayac stands alongside Accokeek Foundation founder, Frances Payne Bolton, at the February 1968 dedication of Piscataway Park. Image courtesy of the Accokeek Foundation.

Piscataway Park, Moyaone Reserve, and Accokeek Creek Site are just a few nearby places whose name and shape are influenced by the Indigenous communities of present-day Maryland. This Native American Heritage Month, we invite you to explore our collections to learn more about the history of the land we inhabit and to uplift stories of Native communities both past and present.

References:

Explore our Native Americans in Maryland research guide to find more resources available through UMD Libraries. Visit the website of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Museum and Cultural Center and browse through Accokeek Foundation’s Piscataway Voices series to learn more about the present-day experiences of local Piscataway community members in their own words.


Jacob Hopkins is a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Science program at UMD and the Graduate Assistant for Reference, Outreach, and Engagement in Maryland & Historical Collections, Special Collections and University Archives.

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