Feature Image: The mouth of the Sassafras River with Turner’s Creek on left. Photo by Jane Thomas, Integration and Application Network (ian.umces.edu/media-library).

This Week’s History Quiz Question: What river in Kent County was formerly known as the Tockwogh?

A. Sassafras River
B. Still Pond Creek
C. Swan Creek
D. None of the above

The Answer: A. The Sassafras River.

Captain John Smith (1580-1631), intrepid explorer, designated the Sassafras River as the Tockwogh on his 1612 map. This well-executed chart of his extensive journeys of 1608 remained the guide for nearly a century for the eager settlers that immigrated to the area following Smith’s discoveries.

A shallow-drafted shallop brought Smith up the Chesapeake Bay into an abundance of uncharted waters along its shores. The flexibility of being able to navigate through smaller waterways enabled him to meet hundreds of Native American tribes. Those on Kent County’s Eastern Shore tended to be friendly. They were typically “hunters and gatherers” and didn’t migrate frequently. They would set up their villages with gardens and spend the warm seasons using their skills to feed and clothe their families.

Sassafras River features and access. Source: kentcounty.com.

On August 1, 1608, Smith entered the Sassafras, which he marked on his map as the Tockwogh. Records reveal that the river was named for the Tockwogh Indian village. The village was supposedly built along the Sassafras on Shrewsbury Neck near where the present-day Kentmore Park is located.

Coincidentally, an important source of starch in their diets came from the roots of a plant called Tockwogh (Peltandra virginica), also known as tuckahoe or arrow arum. (Tuckahoe is a variation of the Native American word Tockwogh.) It grows in slow-moving or still water. The Tockwogh tribe had figured out how to prepare the plant to negate the toxicity found in its roots and grind them into a flour. An American widespread native plant, the Tockwogh grows locally in large colonies in and along the Sassafras.


The Kent County History Quiz is a weekly local brainteaser sponsored by The Peoples Bank. Our goal is to create an opportunity for local learning and discussion.

Do you have a Kent County history question? Send it to steve@kentpilot.org.