Heater’s Island Jesuit Ring


Figure 1.  Jesuit Ring with a round face that depicts the crucifixion (Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab).

In the summer of 1970, a group of students from the University of Maryland College Park participated in an archaeological field school on Heater’s Island (18FR72).  Located in the middle of the Potomac River in Frederick County, Maryland, the island is accessible only by boat.  Of interest to the students and the faculty teaching the field session was a short-term settlement (1699-c.1712) of the island by the Piscataway Indians.  A group of about 400 Piscataway, including the tayac, resided on the island in a bastioned fortification containing 18 structures and an additional nine buildings outside of its walls (Curry 2015).

The Piscataway arrived at Heater’s Island after almost two decades of moving around.  Susquehannock and Iroquois raids against the Piscataway, Mattawoman and other nations led the Piscataway to seek protection from English colonists(King and Strickland 2016:9).  Beginning in 1680, they lived in a fortified settlement built in the Zekiah Swamp near the location of Lord Baltimore’s summer house in what is now Charles County, Maryland (King and Strickland 2016).  At least some Piscataway continued to live there into the 1690s (King and Strickland 2017:17).

Weary of the English encroaching on their lands, the Piscataway abandoned Maryland for Virginia in 1697.  After having spent two years in Virginia (Curry 2015), they returned to Maryland and settled on Heater’s Island.

dennis fort reconstruction

Figure 2.  Conjectured reconstruction of the fort on Heater’s Island (from Curry n.d.)


Included among the Native American pottery and stone tools and English trade goods discovered during the excavation was this copper alloy Jesuit ring.  Depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, this type of ring was typical of goods traded or given to Native Americans by the Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century (Hauser 1982).  Other European artifacts included glass beads, white clay tobacco pipes, gun parts and iron cooking pots, signaling the shift in material culture the Piscataway were undergoing after contact with the English.

The Piscataway remained on Heater’s Island until 1712, when they resettled in Pennsylvania. Today, Heater’s Island is owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.


Curry, Dennis.  n.d.   “We have beene with the Empeour of Pifcattaway, att his forte”: The Piscataway Indians on Heater’s Island.   Powerpoint presentation available at http://mht.maryland.gov/documents/pdf/archeology/currentresearch/heaters-island.pdf

Curry, Dennis.  2015  Heater’s Island and the Piscataway Indians. Our History, Our Heritage.  The Maryland Historical Trust Blog. Available at https://mdhistoricaltrust.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/heaters-island-piscataway/

Hauser, Judith A.   1982  Jesuit Rings from Fort Michilimackinac and Other European Contact Sites. Mackinack Island State Park Commission, Mackinack Island, Michigan.

King, Julia A. and Scott M. Strickland.  2016  The Search for Zekiah Fort:  Tracing Piscataway History on the Ground.  St. Mary’s College of Maryland.


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