Wiccomico Tribe of Virginia

The Wicocomico, Wiccocomoco, Wighcocomoco, or Wicomico were an Algonquian-speaking tribe who lived in Northumberland County, Virginia, at the head and slightly north of the Little Wicomico River. They were a fringe group in Powhatan’s Confederacy. In the mid-seventeenth century, the colonial court of Virginia ordered them to merge with a smaller tribe; the group was known as Wicocomico when assigned a reservation of 4,400 acres (18 km2) near Dividing Creek, south of the Great Wicomico River.

After losing the last of their reservation land in the early 1700s, the tribe disappeared from the historical record and was considered extinct. Since the late twentieth century, descendants have organized, documented history and genealogy, and are seeking recognition.

The Wicocomico people were encountered by Captain John Smith in 1608 as he explored Virginia. He notes a village of about 130 men on the South side of the mouth of the Patawomeke (Potomac) River.

The Northumberland County Court began interfering in the governance of the local tribes by the mid-1600s. Sometime between 1652 and 1655, the Court directed the Wicocomico and Chicacoan (or Sekakawons) tribes to merge and relocate slightly south of the Great Wicomico River. They were given 50 acres per fighting man, for a total of 4,400 acres (18 km2) near Dividing Creek. The Lower Cuttatawomen probably merged with them between 1656 and 1659. The merged tribes’ adopted the name of “Wicocomico” as that group were the most numerous. The Court appointed Machywap (formerly King of the Chicacoan) as the weroance of the combined tribes, as he was considered a friend of the English and easy to manage. By 1659, the Wicocomico had deposed Machywap, possibly by force, and replaced him with Pekwem as their weroance.

There were constant problems with the colonists’ encroachment on their lands. From 1660 to 1673, the Wicocomico frequently challenged colonists in court over land disputes. Although most disputes were settled in favor of the Wicocomico, by 1719 they retained only 1,700 acres (6.9 km2) of their original 4,400-acre (18 km2) reservation. In 1705, Robert Beverley, Jr. wrote “In Northumberland, Wiccocomoco, has but three men living, which yet keep up their Kingdom, and retain their Fashion; they live by themselves, separate from all other Indians, and from the English.” After June 1719 and the death of William Taptico, the last Wicocomico weroance, the English took the lands. The remnants of the Wicocomico dispersed, and the tribe has been considered extinct. In 1730, the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730 declared that one of the public tobacco warehouses should be “At Wiccocomico, at Robert Jones’s; and at Coan, at the warehouses in Northumberland, under one inspection.”

Since the late twentieth century, according to their website, descendants of Chief Taptico have worked to document their genealogy and history, as well as to re-organize as a tribe known as the Wicocomico Indian Nation. They have not received state or federal recognition, although they are preparing required documentation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In addition, the Wicocomico DNA Project, administered by direct male descendants of Chief Taptico, is seeking to identify both male and female direct-line descendants of the chief in the Chesapeake Bay region, as well as contemporary surnames of such descendants. The following surnames appear among associated male direct-line descendants: Tapp, Freeman, Doggett, Logan, Stricklin, Dennis and Polk.

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