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Indigenous Diplomacy, Erasure, and the British Connection

Adorning the street-level façade of the Lord Baltimore Hotel is a pair of stone medallions, repeated over and over around the building [Figure 1]. The European face is that of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, according to his facial hair and to the Historic Hotels of America website. The identity of the Native American man shown in these stone medallions is more ambiguous.

Image shows a cropped section of the side of a building, the bottom half is white decorative marble around two windows, the top is red brick. At each side, there is a small round carved portrait.
Figure 1: Part of the façade of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, showing two stone medallions depicting a Native American man and a European man. Photo by author, 2023.

Locally anachronistic Native “chief” imagery is not unusual for this era of American architecture: for example, the Cobb Building in Seattle, and the Dumbarton Bridge in Washington DC as well as sandstone reliefs in the US Capitol Building closer nearby. But the uniqueness of this design within the architect’s own work points to a more specific connection. Anyone familiar with the architectural vocabulary of Maryland’s history would likely interpret this as a depiction of Kittamaquund, the tayac (emperor or chief) of the Piscataway people who established diplomatic relations with George Calvert’s son Leonard Calvert in Maryland in 1636, and was baptized Catholic in 1640.

Figure 2: A mosaic in Corpus Christi Church, Baltimore, depicting Father Andrew White (SJ) preaching to English colonists and Piscataway leaders. Photo courtesy Mary Chapman, 2022.

The Catholic evangelization of the Piscataway people, one type of British-Indigenous relations, is memorialized all over Maryland and serves as the starting point of nearly every work of local religious or colonial history. Visitors to Baltimore can see it depicted in a mosaic in Corpus Christi Church [Figure 2] or a mural at the Lyric Theater [Figure 3]. The story of this early colonial moment comes mainly from Jesuit missionary sources, including Father Andrew White (SJ)’s “Briefe Relation of the Voyage Unto Maryland” written in 1634 which survives today in English at the Maryland Center for History and Culture in Baltimore, and in Latin at the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu in Rome, Italy.

When English Catholic colonists arrived at what would become known as Maryland’s Western shore in 1634, they found themselves facing a powerful, hierarchical polity of settled agriculturalists, who lived mainly between the Potomac and the Patuxent rivers. Jesuit missionaries—in their usual fashion—commenced diplomatic overtures with the Piscataway polity by trying to evangelize its political leaders. The promise of military alliance with English colonial forces sweetened the deal enough for the Piscataway people that they accepted. Kittamaquund and his family were catechized and eventually baptized. His young daughter Mary Kittamaquund was sent to live with an elite colonial family, which she later married into. The best recent scholarly work on this history is that of Gabrielle Tayac (a member of the present-day Piscataway Indian Nation) and an unflinching examination of the Mary Kittamaquund story by Kelly Watson.

Figure 3: A painted mural in the Lyric Performing Arts Center, Baltimore, of Leonard Calvert and Father Andrew White (SJ) establishing the colony of Maryland, with Piscataway onlookers in the background. Photo courtesy James Goldsborough Bigwood, 2015.

But treaty-making, the other major type of early Indigenous-British or British-Indigenous relations in Maryland, is almost completely absent from public consciousness as well as from artistic memorialization. This stands in stark contrast to elsewhere in North America, where the history of treaties made with Indigenous nations is well-known—in part because they are frequently relevant to current events. As I write this, a case brought by the Navajo Nation involving their 1868 Treaty with the United States is being argued before the US Supreme Court in Washington DC. Treaty negotiations in the early modern Chesapeake set the precedent for all of those later North American nation-to-nation treaties: the first Powhatan-Virginia Treaty in 1646, the Susquehannock-Maryland Treaty of 1652, the Piscataway-Maryland Treaty of 1666, and the 1677 Pamunkey-Virginia “Treaty of Middle Plantation” which is still observed today, among others.

Figure 4: Microfilm reproductions of both pages of the 1652 Maryland-Susquehannock Treaty. Maryland State Archives, Liber HH (Governor and Council: Proceedings), courtesy of Michelle Fitzgerald.

In a 1652 treaty [Figure 4], Susquehannock (also known as Conestoga) diplomats ceded the land we now know as Baltimore to Maryland colonial leaders. These negotiations occurred while Maryland was under Protestant political control. Nonetheless, to describe this form of diplomacy primarily as the Protestant alternative to evangelizing Indigenous polities would be misleading, as the Susquehannock people were unwilling to accept Christian evangelization of any kind at this point in their history. Under threat by Haudenosaunee attack from the north and seeking European alliances, the Susquehannock representatives whose names were rendered from their Iroquoian language into English orthography as Sawahegeh, Aurotaurogh, Scarhuhadih, Ruthcuhogah, and Wathetdianeh agreed to a series of “Articles of Peace and freindshipp” with Maryland, while also carrying on diplomatic negotiations with New Netherland and New Sweden. Negotiators on the Maryland side, led by Richard Bennett (then Governor of Virginia), were desperate for an end to hostilities with Susquehannock forces. As Matthew Kruer has pointed out in his recent book, this was a treaty of equal relations, unlike the tributary relationships negotiated by English colonists with other Chesapeake-area Indigenous nations.

In 1675, however, a joint force of troops from Maryland and Virginia—including George Washington's great-grandfather John Washington—violated the terms of the 1652 treaty with an unprovoked attack on the Susquehannock people, laying siege to the new settlement that they had established within Piscataway territory. This attack escalated a spiral of colonial and Indigenous violence that led to what we now know as “Bacon’s Rebellion” the following year. In breaking the peace agreement from 1652, it also rendered the Susquehannock land cession legally null and void. The Susquehannock Nation no longer exists as a political entity, due to a series of massacres carried out by English colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Still, their descendants survive elsewhere, and this land is legally theirs.

This autumn, when NACBS Annual Meeting attendees arrive at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, I invite each of you to look up at these stone medallions and ponder: who does the Native American portrait motif represent? The Piscataway tayac, or a Susquehannock diplomat? And how might a community of British Studies scholars respond to the erasure or representation of these histories?


Emma Katherine Bilski is a PhD candidate in History at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.


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