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Native Americans of the Area
More than a dozen pre history Native American sites have been found within the present boundary of Arlington County, eight along the shore of the Potomac River, three in the upper valley of Four Mile Run. They were not all occupied at the same time. The earliest traces of Native American sites in this area date from about 13,500 years ago.
The recorded history of Arlington began in July 1608. Captain John Smith and fourteen other Englishmen, on a voyage of exploration from James Fort in an open sailboat, arrived off a Native American village with a name that sounded to Smith as though it should be spelled Nameroughquena. This village of a few longhouses made of woven grass mats was located on the Virginia shore, where the present day railroad bridge and the spans carrying US-1 and I-395 touch the Virginia soil. The inhabitants of Nameroughquena spoke an Algonquian dialect similar to that spoken by the Native Americans who lived near James Fort. Their tribal name sounded to Smith like Nacotchtank. Other Englishmen later simplified it to Necostin.
The “king’s house” of the Necostins was in a larger village on the other side of the river at a place now called Anacostia, a Latinized form of the tribal name. Smith learned that the Necostin king could muster some 80 warriors, from which it may be deduced that the entire Necostin population, on both sides of the river, numbered no more than 500 men, women, and children.
The Necostins received Smith hospitably. Two years later, however, when Captain Samuel Argall came to buy corn from them for the starving men at James Fort, they refused to sell. Argall’s reaction was to drive them from their villages, which he plundered and burned. Thereafter Englishmen were not welcome in the land of the Necostins. During this period of hostility the Necostins took captive an Englishman, Henry Fleet. He lived among them for many years and gained their friendship. This friendship gave him a monopoly of the fur trade with the northern tribes at the head of navigation in the Potomac. Henry Fleet has left us a description of the area as it was in 1631. This place without question is the most pleasant and healthful place in all this country, and most convenient for habitation, the air temperate in summer and not violent in winter. It aboundeth in all manner of fish….As for deer, buffaloes, bears, turkeys, the woods do swarm with them and the soil is exceedingly fertile; but above this place the country is rocky and mountainous like Canada.
In 1669 John Alexander purchased from Robert Howson, a Stafford County, Virginia, tobacco dealer, a 6,000-acre tract of land extending along the Potomac from Hunting Creek (south of Alexandria) to the present north line of the Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Myer. Howson had obtained a patent for this land, but Alexander soon after-ward bought it from him for six hundredweight (672 English pounds) of tobacco with casks. Alexander must have settled tenants on this land in order to protect his title.
In 1675 the Susquehannocks, driven southward by the Iroquois, invaded the area. This eruption precipitated a war with the Native Americans in Virginia that led to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 against the colonial government in a revolt over policy toward Native Americans. To escape these disturbances the Necostins fled westward to Conoy Island in the upper Potomac, near Point of Rocks, Maryland. The English fled southward to the protection of the fort at Occoquan.