The Last Porttobacco
When Captain John Smith first entered the Port Tobacco River in 1608, he found a small group of native people living along its shores. He believed there may have been a couple of hundred individuals with about 20 warriors known as the Portobaccos. We now know they moved along the shores of the river never staying in one place more than a few years. Food was plentiful, temperatures moderate, and the area was relatively peaceful. The living sites they selected were all near springs of fresh pure water, close to the river with no intervening swamps and elevated enough to be above high tide. Good drainage was essential, and the soils at each site tended to be sandy and light, easily tilled by the implements they had. Like other Potomac River tribes, the Portobaccos did not reside in a common village but spread out with easy access to one another. Sites tended to be abandoned when waste began to build up, then reclaimed at some later date. The Portobaccos spoke an Algonquin language that they shared with the other nations in the Potomac region.
The Portobaccos were visited by the Jesuits in 1642 and found to be ruled by a queen. Later that year, the queen and most of her people were baptized as Roman Catholics.The turmoil in England during these years spilled over into the colonies and when Captain Richard Ingle captured Father White and Father Copley in 1644 and carried them back to England, the Jesuit’s ministry among the Portobaccos waned. By the time the Jesuits resumed their work, the land on both sides of the river was being rapidly claimed by English settlers. Since there was no longer any room for them, the Portobaccos quietly dispersed among the other Piscataway people now gathering in the Chaptico, Zekiah, and Cheltham regions or leaving for lands beyond. In this painting an older member of the Portobaccos, realizing his life here is over, bids farewell to the river his ancestors had known as home for a millennium. Oil on canvas 24x30 inches