American Indians walked the land where the nation’s capital city now stands long before Europeans arrived. Local historian Armand Lione researches that history at the Library.
Tell us about your background and what inspired your research project.
I earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Rochester in the 1970s and have worked since 1986 as a reproductive toxicologist in D.C. In 2008, I started visiting Melbourne, Australia, and I went back every other year through 2020. Indigenous issues are very important in Australia. When I came back to D.C. in spring 2016, I decided to start researching the Native people of Washington.
I live only a block away from Garfield Park and the former Daniel Carroll Estate on Capitol Hill. To my surprise, those locations turn out to be two of the best documented sites related to the Anacostan Indians (the Latin version of their original name, Nacotchtanks) who once lived in what is now Washington, D.C.
What resources have you used at the Library?
I’ve consulted books from the collections, including works by former National Park Service chief archaeologist Stephen Potter and historian Helen Rountree, as well as articles from online databases — full access to JSTOR at the Library was very productive. I’ve also used maps, such as Andrew Ellicott’s 1790 map, which labeled the eastern branch of the Potomac River as the “Anna Kostia,” and images, including drawings by John White from the 1500s that provide visual records of everyday life among the Algonquins.
What are some striking stories from your Library research?
Samuel Proudfit, in his 1889 work about the Native history of D.C., refers repeatedly to block 736. So, I visited the Geography and Map Division and asked if any information was available about the block. To my pleasant surprise, a staffer brought out a map of the Daniel Carroll Estate. On it, I found there was a spring, which helped explain why Carroll chose the site for his estate and why the Natives before him chose to live there.
Two personal journals also stood out to me — those of colonist and explorer Henry Fleet and physician Almon Rockwell — because they reveal some of the character of the men and aspects of everyday life in the 17th and 19th centuries.
Fleet was captured by the Anacostans in the early 1620s and lived among them for five years until he was 27. Reading his journal, which I accessed in the Main Reading Room, allowed me to document how little he actually said about living with the Indians. “I spent my youth with the Natives,” he wrote just once.
Rockwell, whose journal is also available through the Main Reading Room, was present at the deaths of Presidents Lincoln and Garfield, and he oversaw the construction of Garfield Park in honor of the fallen president. Unfortunately, Rockwell never commented on the Native remains his workmen found when creating the park.
Tell us how you share your findings.
I publish a blog and share my research on a website that features an interactive map showing locations around D.C. where artifacts have been found.
In addition, at the encouragement of Ruth Trocolli, the chief archaeologist of Washington, who is also very interested the city’s Native history, I started the D.C. Native History Project. It consists of a growing group of volunteers who work with local Pistacaway/Conoy tribe members to get recognition for the Anacostan heritage of the area. Our Facebook site now has nearly 150 members.
Also, in 2019 and again this summer, I set up a display in Garfield Park for a day to talk with neighbors about the Native history of the park and Native artifacts found on the Carroll Estate. The Washington Post wrote about my display this year.
Any advice for others who might be interested in researching a topic of interest at the Library?
Delving into the incredible holdings of the Library is made much easier and more productive with the help of the Library’s excellent staff. Talking with an expert staff member about your research interest may open up avenues you haven’t considered and lead you deeper into the wonderful materials in the Library!
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Thanks for publishing this interview. It brings essential information on DC’s original inhabitants, ways one can count on the wonderful LOC, examples of how to get generational details, and at a personal level, encourage me and probably others that pursued a different career to explore a different field. Congratulations to Dr Lione and the staff from LOC for one more achievement.
Dear Mr. Lione,
My mother was the great granddaughter of W.B. Shaw, who founded the Kenilworth Aqutic Gardens. She once mentioned that the Potomac Power plant on Benning Road where the bridge now crossing their Anacostia River had been the home of a reman at group even up until her living memory. Did the power monopoly push them out?
Thank you for your research.