First contact with the Nanticoke Tribe was recorded by Captain John Smith in 1608. While exploring the Chesapeake Bay, Smith and his crew sailed onto the Kuskarawaok River.
The Kuskarawaoks, later known as the Nanticoke Indians, cautiously watched Smith’s ship from the shore, climbing into the trees for a better look. When Smith approached the shore in a boat, the Nanticoke answered with arrows. Smith prudently put down anchor for the night in the middle of the river.
The next morning, the Nanticoke appeared on the shore with baskets of food. Still cautious, Captain Smith had his men fire muskets over the heads of the Nanticoke. The Indians escaped. Not until then did the English see warriors lying in the reeds for ambush.
Later that afternoon, Smith noticed the Indians were gone, and he and his men came to shore. He found fires still burning, but no Indians were seen. Smith discovered glass beads, shells, and copper pieces left as gifts of friendship.
The following day, four Indians who had been fishing approached Smith’s ship in a canoe. Smith convinced them he came in friendship, and they returned with twenty villagers. Food, water, and furs were exchanged for gifts the English brought.
Several Nanticokes agreed to serve as guides for Smith to continue his exploration of the Kuskarawaok, now known as the Nanticoke River. Smith described the Nanticoke as “the best merchants of all.”