Tucked away in the middle of Virginia’s modern suburban cities, lies a quaint, charming, small town that harkens to colonial times in the 1700s. It looks like time stood still in this small town – masonry houses fill main street, a mill house stands at the end of the street, small restaurants and shops that you no longer see in modern suburban cities dot every nook and cranny.
I noticed this town right away when we drove around the area, back when my family and I first moved to this part of Virginia. As soon as we settled into our new home, I wanted to go explore this interesting town that stood out from the rest of the neighborhoods nearby.
The name of the town really caught my eye. Occoquan, which I knew wasn’t an English word or name, but from my knowledge of Native American history, I suspected it was a Native American word.
After coming home from my first visit to this interesting town, I wanted to learn more about its history.
The Town of Occoquan is located right along the Occoquan River and it was the home of the Moyumpse people. When the English arrived in this area, they began to call the Moyumpse people “Dogues” or “the Dogue Indians.” However, there seems to be no indication on record as to why they gave them that name or if that’s even the accurate name that the Native American people who inhabited Occoquan called themselves. The English also called them the Doeg and Taux. There is however, historical evidence that the people who lived in Occoquan when the English arrived were the Moyumpse people; therefore, this is the name that I will use throughout this blog post.
It appears that the Moyumpse spoke an Algonquian language and may have been a branch of the Nanticoke tribe, historically based on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
According to the Town of Occoquan’s history, Occoquan is derived from the Algonquian language that the Moyumpse spoke and it could possibly mean “at the end of the water.” Like the English colonists after them, the Moyumpse people relied on the river for transportation and trade, as well as fish. They lived in villages, hunted, fished, and raised corn, beans, squash, and tobacco.
According to Occoquan Historical Society, on July 1608 Captain John Smith of Jamestown sailed into the Occoquan River and there he met for the first time the Moyumpse people who lived in a settlement called Tauxenent.
By 1765, Anglo-American colonists established an industrial settlement at Occoquan, with grist mills and tobacco warehouses. The Merchant’s Mill was the first automated grist mill in the nation. It operated for 175 years until a fire destroyed it in 1924.
The town of Occoquan began with the opening of a tobacco warehouse on the shore of the Occoquan River in 1734. Occoquan grew as the focus of the commercial and manufacturing activities of John Ballendine, who had an iron furnace, forge, and sawmills at the falls of the river before 1759.
After the American Revolution, Occoquan emerged as a flour-manufacturing center with one of the nation’s first gristmills to use the labor-saving inventions of Oliver Evans. In 1804, Occoquan was established as a town and thrived as a commercial and industrial center into the 1920s.
Today Occoquan is a lively town full of energy, especially on the weekends, when visitors drive from different nearby cities to visit around the art and crafts shops and enjoy dinning at the variety of local restaurants.
I really enjoy shopping and dining in Occoquan. The town hosts two yearly Occoquan Arts and Crafts shows where local artisans and small businesses can showcase and sell their products to visitors. This Occoquan Arts and Crafts Show has been around for more than 50 years. This is a picture of an Occoquan Arts and Crafts Show taken in 1970.
One of my favorite eateries in Occoquan is Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery, which also has a wine shop called Mom’s Wine Shop. At Mom’s Apple Pie Bakery you can find really good home-made pies from mince pie, like the old English traditional pies, to more one-of-a-kind pies like rhubarb and cranberry. Still, my favorite one is the traditional apple pie. Yum!
For those who love the outdoors and sitting outside, Occoquan has a number of restaurants with outdoor seating like The Secret Garden Cafe. This restaurant is a popular place to eat late brunches on the weekends. I really love its outdoor ambiance.
As far as shops, Occoquan has a lot of art and craft stores such as art galleries, boutiques, pottery making and painting shops, and vintage stores. One of my favorite stores is, So Bohemian, boutique store that sells an eclectic mix of international and designer fashion, they also sell handcrafted jewelry, my favorite!
Occoquan is one of my favorite places to visit. When I come here, I feel like I’m in a place that is so different than the rest of the modern cities and suburbs, which are abundant in Northern Virginia. I love that this town kept a Native American name. Many historic towns in Northern Virginia are named after English names that pay homage to England such as Old Town Alexandria and Colonial Williamsburg. Having the town of Occoquan named after a Native American word, specifically an Algonquian language derived word, gives meaning and importance to the first peoples who inhabited Occoquan prior to the arrival of the English settlers.
Even though I am impressed by how this town was established and how it was able to survive and thrive in an area that has been rapidly growing with modernization, I wish there was more history about the Moyumpse people. Who were they? What did they look like? How was their first encounter with the English?
I wish there was more written about their history besides, “On July 1608 Captain John Smith of Jamestown sails into the Occoquan River and is welcomed by the Doeg Indians at their settlement, Tauxenent.” And then the history of Occoquan moves on to how the first industries in this area were established and how this town was first founded after the English settlers arrived at Occoquan. There are almost one hundred years of missing history about the Moyumpse people and their interaction with the English settlers after John Smith explored this area in 1608.
I want to know more about the Moyumpse people.
I want to know who they were, what their customs were like, what they looked like, their ceremonies, their history told by their ancestors, their folk stories and legends regarding the Occoquan River and this land.
I have been researching a lot about this town in hopes of learning more about the Native Americans who called this place their home.
When I visit Occoquan, I like to stand before the Occoquan River and lose myself amongst what’s left of the trees that were once a sprawling forest that ran alongside this river. I look towards the horizon where the sun begins to set and I watch seagulls, ospreys, and hawks flying close to the river trying to catch their meal of the day.
I wonder what stories the Moyumpse people had to tell and share about their land that used to be their home, what their origin story was regarding life, what the names for those flowers and plants that grow abundantly along the Occoquan River were and what medicinal purposes they served.
I would’ve loved to see more history of the Moyumpse people in the town of Occoquan. After all, this was their land and their home. At the very least, I would’ve liked to see more accurate information about the Moyumpse people.
There is so much history that took place before 1608 before Captain John Smith explored Occoquan, I hope to dig more into the history of this land and the people that were here before, all the while continuing to enjoy everything modern day Occoquan has to offer.
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