Bethesda is located in a region populated by the Piscataway and Nacotchtank tribes at the time of European colonization. Henry Fleet (1602–1661) was an English fur trader and the first European to travel to the area, which he reached by sailing up the Potomac River. He stayed with the Piscataway tribe from 1623 to 1627 as both a guest and a prisoner, then returned to England. He spoke of potential riches in fur and gold, and won funding for another American expedition. The tribes living on the land that became Bethesda were forced into reservations and decimated by communicable diseases to which they had no immunity.