NCTC Cultural History

Timeline Prehistory


Native Americans lived intermittently along the edge of the river they called the Cohongoroota for thousands of years. Riverbottom lands provided fertile soil for their fields of squash and corn, and the rolling limestone uplands supported plentiful resources including large herds of buffalo and elk grazing in the meadows amidst scattered patches of oak-hickory forest. Village locations changed frequently based on the availability of resources and competition with other groups. The latest evidence for a seasonal encampment at the site that became NCTC is dated at about 400 years before Europeans first explored the lower Shenandoah Valley. Among the enduring legacies of the people who once lived here are the beautiful names given to local creeks and rivers: Shenandoah, Antietam, Opequon, Tuscarora, Conococheague, Cacapon.

Archeological evidence on the NCTC property has shown that Native Americans utilized the site intermittently upwards of 8000 years. Dating of cultural artifacts suggests that regular occupancy of the site ended about 1300 A.D.; this matches a regional pattern characterized by pronounced changes in the distribution and subsistence strategies of earlier cultural groups often correlated with a climate phenomenon known as the Little Ice Age. The very few European accounts of the area between the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in the 1720s indicate the area was utilized by small groups of natives for occasional seasonal subsistence, including fish traps to catch springtime sucker runs near present-day Harper’s Ferry. The I-81 corridor about 10 miles west of NCTC today roughly follows a major trail from New York to the Carolinas once used by various groups including the Delaware, Shawnee and Catawba tribes; another ancient trail crossed the river at Pack Horse ford about a mile south of Shepherdstown. There seems not to have been any large or long-term settlements of Native Americans in the Shepherdstown area when Europeans began moving into the valley; the Maryland Council in the early 1700s spoke of Indian towns at Conestoga, Pennsylvania, the Shawnee town at present-day Oldtown, Maryland, a fort near Great Falls on the Potomac and several other tribes with towns around the Chesapeake Bay. A group of Tuscarora Indians, after fleeing the Carolinas sometime after 1715, lived at the site of present-day Martinsburg for a time (some accounts suggest they moved there after 1730), then left just prior to the French and Indian War in the 1750s. Note that these tribal names were often designations given to them by the Europeans – kinship patterns were complex and the natives themselves may have felt little connection to their assigned group.