Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Powhatan

Powhatan

Overview
The Powhatan is the name of a Virginia Indian confederation of tribes. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 of these native Powhatan people in eastern Virginia when the English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 settled Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

 in 1607. They were also known as Virginia Algonquians, as they spoke an eastern-Algonquian
Algonquian languages
The Algonquian languages also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the Ojibwe language, which is a...

 language known as Powhatan
Powhatan language
Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian is an extinct language belonging to the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian languages. It was spoken by the Powhatan people of tidewater Virginia. It became extinct around the 1790s after speakers switched to English. The sole documentary evidence for this...

 or Virginia Algonquin.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief), named Wahunsunacawh
Chief Powhatan
Chief Powhatan , whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh , was the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia at the time English settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607...

 (a.k.a.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Powhatan'
Start a new discussion about 'Powhatan'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The Powhatan is the name of a Virginia Indian confederation of tribes. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 of these native Powhatan people in eastern Virginia when the English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 settled Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

 in 1607. They were also known as Virginia Algonquians, as they spoke an eastern-Algonquian
Algonquian languages
The Algonquian languages also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the Ojibwe language, which is a...

 language known as Powhatan
Powhatan language
Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian is an extinct language belonging to the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian languages. It was spoken by the Powhatan people of tidewater Virginia. It became extinct around the 1790s after speakers switched to English. The sole documentary evidence for this...

 or Virginia Algonquin.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief), named Wahunsunacawh
Chief Powhatan
Chief Powhatan , whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh , was the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia at the time English settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607...

 (a.k.a. "Chief Powhatan"), created a powerful organization by affiliating 30 tributary
Tributary
A tributary or affluent is a stream or river that flows into a main stem river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean...

 peoples, whose territory was much of eastern Virginia, called Tsenacommacah
Tsenacommacah
Tsenacommacah is what the Powhatan Indians called their homeland. This area encompassed all of Tidewater Virginia and parts of the Eastern Shore...

("densely-inhabited Land"), Wahunsunacawh came to be known by the English as "Chief Powhatan". Each of the tribes within this organization had its own weroance
Weroance
Weroance is an Algonquian word meaning tribal chief, leader, commander, or king, notably among the Powhatan confederacy of the Virginia coast and Chesapeake Bay region. The Powhatan Confederacy, encountered by the colonists of Jamestown and adjacent area of the Virginia Colony beginning in 1607,...

 (chief), but all paid tribute to Chief Powhatan.

After Chief Powhatan's death in 1618, hostilities with colonists escalated under the chiefdom of his brother, Opechancanough, who sought in vain to drive off the encroaching English. His large-scale attacks in 1622 and 1644 met strong reprisals by the English, resulting in the near elimination of the tribe. By 1646, what is called the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom by modern historians had been largely destroyed. In addition to the ongoing conflicts with the ever-expanding English settlements and their inhabitants, the Powhatan suffered a high death rate due to infectious diseases, maladies introduced to North America by the Europeans to which the Native Americans of the United States had developed no natural immunities.

By this time, the leaders of the colony were desperate for labor to develop the land. Almost half of the English and European immigrants arrived as indentured servants. As colonial expansion continued, the colonists imported growing numbers of enslaved
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 Africans for labor. By 1700, the colonies had about 6,000 black slaves, one-twelfth of the population. It was common for black slaves to escape and join the surrounding Powhatan; white servants were also noted to have joined the Indians. Africans and whites worked and lived together; some natives also intermarried with them. After Bacon's Rebellion
Bacon's Rebellion
Bacon's Rebellion was an uprising in 1676 in the Virginia Colony in North America, led by a 29-year-old planter, Nathaniel Bacon.About a thousand Virginians rose because they resented Virginia Governor William Berkeley's friendly policies towards the Native Americans...

 in 1676, the colony enslaved Indians for control. In 1691, the House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

 abolished Indian slavery; however, many Powhatan were held in servitude well into the 18th century.

In the 21st century, eight Indian tribes are recognized by the state as having ties with the original Powhatan complex chiefdom. The Pamunkey
Pamunkey
The Pamunkey nation are one of eleven Virginia Indian tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The historical tribe was part of the Powhatan paramountcy, made up of Algonquian-speaking tribes. The Powhatan paramount chiefdom was made up over 30 tribes, estimated to total about...

 and Mattaponi
Mattaponi
The Mattaponi tribe is one of only two Virginia Indian tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia that owns reservation land. The larger Mattaponi Indian Tribe lives in King William County on reservation lands that stretch along the borders of the Mattaponi River, near West Point, Virginia.The...

 are the only two peoples who have retained reservation lands from the 17th century. The competing cultures of the Powhatan and English settlers were united temporarily through the marriage of Pocahontas
Pocahontas
Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the head of a network of tributary tribal nations in Tidewater Virginia...

 and John Rolfe
John Rolfe
John Rolfe was one of the early English settlers of North America. He is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia and is known as the husband of Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy.In 1961, the Jamestown...

. Their son Thomas Rolfe
Thomas Rolfe
Thomas Rolfe was the only child of Pocahontas by her English husband, John Rolfe. His maternal grandfather was Wahunsunacock, the chief of Powhatan tribe in Virginia.-Early Life:Thomas Rolfe was born in Virginia...

 was the ancestor of many Virginians; thus, many of the First Families of Virginia
First Families of Virginia
First Families of Virginia were those families in Colonial Virginia who were socially prominent and wealthy, but not necessarily the earliest settlers. They originated with colonists from England who primarily settled at Jamestown, Williamsburg, and along the James River and other navigable waters...

 have both English and Virginia Indian ancestry.

Naming and terminology


The name "Powhatan" (also transcribed by Strachey as Paqwachowng) the name of the village or town that Wahunsunacawh came from. The official title Chief Powhatan
Chief Powhatan
Chief Powhatan , whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh , was the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah, an alliance of Algonquian-speaking Virginia Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia at the time English settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607...

 used by the English is believed to have been derived from the name of this location. Although the specific situs of his home village is unknown, in modern times, the Powhatan Hill neighborhood in the East End portion of the modern-day city of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 is thought by many to be in the general vicinity of the original village. Tree Hill Farm, which is situated in nearby Henrico County
Henrico County, Virginia
Henrico is a county located in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state of the United States. As of 2010, Henrico was home to 306,935 people. It is located in the Richmond-Petersburg region and is a portion of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area...

 a short distance to the east, is also considered as the possible site.

"Powhatan" was also the name used by the natives to refer to the river where the town sat at the head of navigation. The English colonists chose to name it instead for their own leader, King James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

. Many features in the early years of the Virginia Colony were named in honor of the king, as well as his three children, Elizabeth, Henry, and Charles.

Although portions of Virginia's longest river upstream from Columbia
Columbia, Virginia
Columbia is a town in Fluvanna County, Virginia, United States, at the confluence of the James and Rivanna Rivers. The population was 49 at the 2000 census, making it Virginia's smallest incorporated town...

 were much later named for Queen Anne
Anne of Great Britain
Anne ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on 8 March 1702. On 1 May 1707, under the Act of Union, two of her realms, England and Scotland, were united as a single sovereign state, the Kingdom of Great Britain.Anne's Catholic father, James II and VII, was deposed during the...

 of Great Britain, in modern times, it is called the James River
James River (Virginia)
The James River is a river in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is long, extending to if one includes the Jackson River, the longer of its two source tributaries. The James River drains a catchment comprising . The watershed includes about 4% open water and an area with a population of 2.5 million...

. It extends from Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads
Hampton Roads is the name for both a body of water and the Norfolk–Virginia Beach metropolitan area which surrounds it in southeastern Virginia, United States...

 westerly to the confluence of the Jackson River
Jackson River (Virginia)
The Jackson River is a major tributary of the James River in the U.S. state of Virginia, flowing . The James River is formed by the confluence of the Jackson River and the Cowpasture River.-Course:...

 and Cowpasture River
Cowpasture River
The Cowpasture River is a chief tributary of the James River in western Virginia in the United States. It is long.-Course:The Cowpasture rises in northeastern Highland County and flows generally southwestwardly, initially between Bullpasture Mountain and Shaws Ridge through a narrow valley floor...

 near the town of Clifton Forge
Clifton Forge, Virginia
Clifton Forge is a town in Alleghany County, Virginia, United States which is part of the Roanoke Region. The population was 3,884 at the 2010 census. The Jackson River flows through the town, which as a result was once known as Jackson's River Station....

. (The Rivanna River
Rivanna River
The Rivanna River is a tributary of the James River in central Virginia in the United States. The Rivanna's tributaries originate in the Blue Ridge Mountains; via the James River, it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay....

, a tributary of the James River, and Fluvanna County
Fluvanna County, Virginia
As of 2002, Fluvanna County's population was 20,047. There are 7,387 households, and 5,702 families residing in the county. The population density was 70 people per square mile . There were 8,018 housing units at an average density of 28 per square mile...

, each survive as named in legacy to Queen Anne). However, the only water body in Virginia to retain a name which honors the Powhatan peoples is Powhatan Creek, located in James City County near Williamsburg
Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is an independent city located on the Virginia Peninsula in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia, USA. As of the 2010 Census, the city had an estimated population of 14,068. It is bordered by James City County and York County, and is an independent city...

.

Powhatan County
Powhatan County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 22,377 people, 7,258 households, and 5,900 families residing in the county. The population density was 86 people per square mile . There were 7,509 housing units at an average density of 29 per square mile...

 and its county seat
County seat
A county seat is an administrative center, or seat of government, for a county or civil parish. The term is primarily used in the United States....

 at Powhatan, Virginia
Powhatan, Virginia
Powhatan is an unincorporated community in and the county seat of Powhatan County, Virginia, United States. Powhatan was initially known as Scottville for a brief time, and historically has also been known as Powhatan Court House and Powhatan Courthouse...

 were honorific names established years later, in locations west of the area populated by the Powhatan peoples. The county was formed in may, 1777.

Complex chiefdom


Likewise, perhaps more significant misnomers are the terms "Powhatan Confederacy" and "Powhatan Confederation." This grouping of tribes is clearly not best-defined in modern terms as a confederacy. That word is generally thought of as a grouping of entities each with greater individual power than the group when united. In many uses, a confederacy is distinctly different in structure from a centralized greater power than the parts, such as the current federal structure of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

.

Many historians attribute to a minor level the failure of the Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 in part to the weakness of the central government in comparison to the Union. (It is important for a reader to note that most historians do not consider this difference as one of the major weaknesses leading to the Southern loss. However, the term Confederacy has become associated with the principal of states' rights versus the central U.S. government).

Using the word "confederacy" to define the Powhatan tribes extant in 1607 can therefore, be misleading when seeking to understand these people, their governments and their culture. It is true that the various tribes each held some individual powers locally. Each had a chief known as a weroance (male) or, more rarely, a weroansqua (female), meaning “commander,”. As of 2010, we do not know to what degree most of the various tribes belonged to the group by choice or perhaps by coercion or even greater force.

As early as the era of John Smith, the individual tribes of this grouping were clearly recognized by the English as falling under the greater authority of the centralized power (whatever it is labeled) led by the chiefdom of Chief Powhatan (c. June 17, 1545 – c. 1618), whose proper name was Wahunsenacawh or (in 17th century English spelling) Wahunsunacock.

At the time of the 1607 English Settlement at Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

, he ruled primarily from Werowocomoco
Werowocomoco
Werowocomoco was a village that served as the political center of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, a grouping of about 30 Virginia Indian tribes speaking an Algonquian language...

, which was located on northern shore of the York River
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

. This location of Werowocomoco, itself only rediscovered in the early 21st century, was very central to locations of the various tribes. The improvements discovered during archaeological research at Werowocomoco have reinforced the paramount chiefdom of Chief Powhatan over the other tribes in the power hierarchy. Such issues in other cultures and the definitions are covered at some length by author Robert L. Carneiro
Robert L. Carneiro
Robert Leonard Carneiro is a prominent American anthropologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History. Carneiro earned a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1957....

 in his 1981 work on anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, The Chiefdom: Precursor of the State. The Transition to Statehood in the New World.

The center of power held by Chief Powhatan (and his several successors) is much more concisely defined as a "complex chiefdom." To refer to this complex chiefdom, the term "Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom" has become favored. Over time, this and other revisions to the knowledge and information available about the Powhatan peoples native to Virginia will undoubtedly be made as research work at Werowocomoco and elsewhere continues in the 21st century.

Chief Powhatan builds his chiefdom


Wahunsunacawh had inherited control over just six tribes, but dominated more than thirty by the time the English settlers established their Virginia Colony at Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

 in 1607. The original six constituent tribes in Wahunsunacock's group were: the Powhatan (proper), the Arrohateck, the Appamattuck, the Pamunkey
Pamunkey
The Pamunkey nation are one of eleven Virginia Indian tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The historical tribe was part of the Powhatan paramountcy, made up of Algonquian-speaking tribes. The Powhatan paramount chiefdom was made up over 30 tribes, estimated to total about...

, the Mattaponi
Mattaponi
The Mattaponi tribe is one of only two Virginia Indian tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia that owns reservation land. The larger Mattaponi Indian Tribe lives in King William County on reservation lands that stretch along the borders of the Mattaponi River, near West Point, Virginia.The...

, and the Chiskiack.

He added the Kecoughtan
Kecoughtan, Virginia
Kecoughtan in Virginia was originally named Kikotan , the name of the Algonquian Native Americans living there when the English colonists arrived in the Hampton Roads area in 1607....

 to his fold by 1598. Some other affiliated groups included the Youghtanund, Rappahannocks
Rappahannock Tribe
The Rappahannock are one of the eleven state-recognized Native American tribes in Virginia. They are made up of descendants of several small Algonquian-speaking tribes who merged in the 17th century.-17th century:...

, Moraughtacund, Weyanoak, Paspahegh
Paspahegh
The Paspahegh tribe were tributaries to the Powhatan paramount chiefdom. The Paspahegh Indian tribe lived in present-day Charles City and James City counties, Virginia...

, Quiyoughcohannock, Warraskoyack, and Nansemond
Nansemond
The Nansemond have been recognized as a Native American tribe by the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with ten other Virginia Indian tribes. They are not Federally recognized but are one of six Virginia tribes without reservations that are included in a bill for Federal recognition under...

. Yet another closely related tribe in the midst of these others, all speaking the same language, was the Chickahominy
Chickahominy (tribe)
The Chickahominy are a tribe of Virginia Indians who primarily live in Charles City County midway between Richmond and Williamsburg in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This area is not far from where they lived in 1600....

, who managed to preserve their autonomy from the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom. The Accawmacke, isolated by the Chesapeake Bay from Powhatan domains, were nominally tributary, but enjoyed autonomy under their own Paramount Chieftain or "Emperor", Debedeavon
Debedeavon
Debedeavon was the chief ruler of the Accawmack Indian nation that was inhabiting the Eastern Shore of Virginia upon the first arrival of English colonists in 1608....

 (aka "The Laughing King").

In his famous work Notes on the State of Virginia (1781–82), Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 estimated that the Powhatan Confederacy occupied about 8000 square miles (20,719.9 km²) of territory, with a population of about 8,000 people, of whom 2400 were warriors. Later scholars estimated the population of the paramountcy
Paramountcy
The doctrine of paramountcy is the legal principle that reconciles contradicting or conflicting laws in a federalist state. Where both the central government and the provincial or state governments have the power to create laws in relation to the same matters, the laws of one government will be...

as 15,000.

The English settlers in the land of the Powhatan



The Powhatan Confederacy were the Indians among whom the English made their first permanent settlement in North America. This contributed to their downfall. Conflicts began immediately; the English colonists fired shots as soon as they arrived (due to a bad experience they had with the Spanish prior to their arrival). Within two weeks of the English arrival at Jamestown, deaths had occurred.

The settlers had hoped for friendly relations and had planned to trade with the Virginia Indians for food. Captain Christopher Newport
Christopher Newport
Christopher Newport was an English seaman and privateer. He is best known as the captain of the Susan Constant, the largest of three ships which carried settlers for the Virginia Company in 1607 on the way to find the settlement at Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, which became the first permanent...

 led the first English exploration party up the James River in 1607, when he met Parahunt, weroance
Weroance
Weroance is an Algonquian word meaning tribal chief, leader, commander, or king, notably among the Powhatan confederacy of the Virginia coast and Chesapeake Bay region. The Powhatan Confederacy, encountered by the colonists of Jamestown and adjacent area of the Virginia Colony beginning in 1607,...

of the Powhatan proper. The English initially mistook him for the paramount Powhatan (mamanatowick), who was in fact his father, Wahunsunacawh.

On a hunting and trade mission on the Chickahominy River
Chickahominy River
The Chickahominy is an river in the eastern portion of the U.S. state of Virginia. The river rises about northwest of Richmond and flows southeast and south to the James River...

 in December 1607, Captain John Smith, later president of the colony, was captured by Opechancanough, the younger brother of Wahunsunacawh. Smith became the first Englishman to meet the paramount chief, Powhatan. According to Smith's account, Pocahontas
Pocahontas
Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the head of a network of tributary tribal nations in Tidewater Virginia...

, Wahunsunacawh's daughter, prevented her father from executing Smith.

Some researchers have asserted that a mock execution was a ritual intended to adopt Smith into the tribe, but other modern writers dispute this interpretation. They point out that nothing is known of 17th-century Powhatan adoption ceremonies. They note that an execution ritual is different from known rites of passage. Other historians, such as Helen Rountree, have questioned whether there was any risk of execution. They note that Smith failed to mention it in his 1608 and 1612 accounts, and only added it to his 1624 memoir, after Pocahontas had become famous.

In 1608, Captain Newport realized that Powhatan's friendship was crucial to the survival of the small Jamestown colony. In the summer of that year, he tried to "crown" the paramount Chief, with a ceremonial crown, to make him an English "vassal." They also gave Powhatan many European gifts, such as a pitcher, feather mattress, bed frame, and clothes. The coronation went badly because they asked Powhatan to kneel to receive the crown, which he refused to do. As a powerful leader, Powhatan followed two rules: "he who keeps his head higher than others ranks higher," and "he who puts other people in a vulnerable position, without altering his own stance, ranks higher." To finish the "coronation", several English had to lean on Powhatan's shoulders to get him low enough to place the crown on his head, as he was a tall man. Afterwards, the English might have thought that Powhatan had submitted to King James, whereas Powhatan likely thought nothing of the sort.

After John Smith became president of the colony, he sent a force under Captain Martin to occupy an island in Nansemond
Nansemond
The Nansemond have been recognized as a Native American tribe by the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with ten other Virginia Indian tribes. They are not Federally recognized but are one of six Virginia tribes without reservations that are included in a bill for Federal recognition under...

 territory and drive the inhabitants away. At the same time, he sent another force with Francis West
Francis West
Francis West was a Deputy Governor of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia.West was the second son of Thomas West, 2nd Baron De La Warr of Wherwell Abbey in Hampshire and his wife, Anne Knollys....

 to build a fort at the James River falls. He purchased the nearby fortified Powhatan village (present site of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

) from Parahunt for some copper and an English servant named Henry Spelman
Henry Spelman of Jamestown
Henry Spelman was an English adventurer, soldier, and author, the son of Erasmus Spelman and nephew to Sir Henry Spelman of Congham . The younger Henry Spelman was born in 1595, and left his home in Norfolk, England at age 14 to sail to Virginia Colony aboard the ship "Unity", as a part of the...

, who wrote a rare firsthand account of the Powhatan ways of life. Smith then renamed the village "Nonsuch", and tried to get West's men to live in it. Both these attempts at settling beyond Jamestown soon failed, due to Powhatan resistance. Smith left Virginia for England in October 1609, never to return, because of an injury sustained in a gunpowder accident. Soon afterward, the English established a second fort, Fort Algernon
Fort Algernon
Fort Algernon was established in the fall of 1609 at the mouth of Hampton Roads at Point Comfort in the Virginia Colony. A strategic point for guarding the shipping channel leading from the Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe was built there beginning in the 1830s. The area is now known as Old Point Comfort...

, in Kecoughtan territory.

In November 1609, Captain John Ratcliffe was invited to Orapakes, Powhatan's new capital. After he had sailed up the Pamunkey River to trade there, a fight broke out between the colonists and the Powhatan. All of the English ashore were killed, including Ratcliffe, who was tortured by the women of the tribe. Those aboard the pinnace
Pinnace
The full rigged pinnace was the larger of two types of vessel called a pinnace. Developed by the Dutch during the early 17th century she had a hull form resembling a small "race built" galleon, and was usually rigged as a ship , or carried a similar rig on two masts...

escaped and told the tale at Jamestown
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

.

During that next year, the tribe attacked and killed many Jamestown residents. The residents fought back, but only killed twenty. However, arrival at Jamestown of a new Governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr
Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr
Thomas West, 3rd and 12th Baron De La Warr was the Englishman after whom the bay, the river, and, consequently, an American Indian people and U.S. state, all later called "Delaware", were named....

, (Lord Delaware) in June of 1610 signalled the beginning of the First Anglo-Powhatan War. A brief period of peace came only after the capture of Pocahontas, her baptism, and her marriage to tobacco planter John Rolfe
John Rolfe
John Rolfe was one of the early English settlers of North America. He is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia and is known as the husband of Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy.In 1961, the Jamestown...

 in 1614. Within a few years both Powhatan and Pocahontas were dead. The Chief died in Virginia, but Pocahontas died while in England. Meanwhile, the English settlers continued to encroach on Powhatan territory.

After Wahunsunacawh's death, his younger brother, Opitchapam, briefly became chief, followed by their younger brother Opechancanough. In 1622 and 1644 he attacked the English to force them from Powhatan territories. Both these attempts were met with strong reprisals from the English, ultimately resulting in the near destruction of the tribe. The Second Anglo–Powhatan War that followed the 1644 incident ended in 1646, after Royal Governor of Virginia William Berkeley's forces captured Opechancanough, thought to be between 90 and 100 years old. While a prisoner, Opechancanough was killed, shot in the back by a soldier assigned to guard him. He was succeeded as Weroance by Necotowance, and later by Totopotomoi
Totopotomoi
Totopotomoi was a grandson of a sister of Chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. He became the Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe in 1649 when he succeeded Nectowance as chief sometime after the death of Opechancanough...

 and by his daughter Cockacoeske
Cockacoeske
Cockacoeskie was a 17th century leader of the Pamunkey Tribe of Native Americans in what is now Virginia in the United States....

.

The Treaty of 1646 marked the effective dissolution of the united confederacy, as white colonists were granted an exclusive enclave between the York and Blackwater Rivers. This physically separated the Nansemonds, Weyanokes and Appomattox, who retreated southward, from the other Powhatan tribes then occupying the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck
Northern Neck
The Northern Neck is the northernmost of three peninsulas on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This peninsula is bounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. It encompasses the following Virginia counties: Lancaster,...

. While the southern frontier demarcated in 1646 was respected for the remainder of the 17th century, the House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

 lifted the northern one on September 1, 1649. Waves of new immigrants quickly flooded the peninsular region, then known as Chickacoan, and restricted the dwindling tribes to lesser tracts of land that became some of the earliest Indian reservations.

In 1665, the House of Burgesses passed stringent laws requiring the Powhatan to accept chiefs appointed by the governor. After the Treaty of Albany in 1684, the Powhatan Confederacy all but vanished.

Capitals of the Powhatan people


The capital village of "Powhatan" was believed to be in the present-day Powhatan Hill section of the eastern part of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, or perhaps nearby in a location which became part of Tree Hill Farm.

Another major center of the confederacy about 75 miles (120.7 km) to the east was called Werowocomoco
Werowocomoco
Werowocomoco was a village that served as the political center of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, a grouping of about 30 Virginia Indian tribes speaking an Algonquian language...

. It was located near the north bank of the York River
York River (Virginia)
The York River is a navigable estuary, approximately long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. It ranges in width from at its head to near its mouth on the west side of Chesapeake Bay. Its watershed drains an area including portions of 17 counties of the coastal plain of Virginia north...

 in present-day Gloucester County
Gloucester County, Virginia
Gloucester County is within the Commonwealth of Virginia in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area in the USA. Formed in 1651 in the Virginia Colony, the county was named for Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, third son of King Charles I of Great Britain. Located in the Middle Peninsula region, it...

.

Werowocomoco was described by the English colonists as only 15 miles (24.1 km) as the crow flies from Jamestown, but also described as 25 miles (40.2 km) downstream from present-day West Point
West Point, Virginia
West Point is an incorporated town in King William County, Virginia, United States. The population was 2,867 at the 2000 census.-Geography:West Point is located at...

, measurements which conflict with each other. In 2003 archaeologists initiated excavations at a site in Gloucester County that have revealed an extensive indigenous settlement from about 1200 (the late Woodland
Woodland
Ecologically, a woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of...

 period) through the early Contact period. Work since then has added to their belief that this is the location of Werowocomoco. The site is on a farm bordering on Purtain Bay of the York River, about 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) from Jamestown. The more than 50 acres (202,343 m²) residential settlement extends up to 1000 feet (304.8 m) back from the river. In 2004, researchers excavated two curving ditches of 200 feet (61 m) at the far edge, which were constructed about 1400 CE. In addition to extensive artifacts from hundreds of years of indigenous
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

 settlement, researchers have found a variety of trade goods related to the brief interaction of Native Americans and English in the early years of Jamestown.

Around 1609, Wahunsunacock shifted his capital from Werowocomoco to Orapakes, located in a swamp at the head of the Chickahominy River
Chickahominy River
The Chickahominy is an river in the eastern portion of the U.S. state of Virginia. The river rises about northwest of Richmond and flows southeast and south to the James River...

, near the modern-day interchange of Interstate 64
Interstate 64
Interstate 64 is an Interstate Highway in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. Its western terminus is at I-70, U.S. 40, and U.S. 61 in Wentzville, Missouri. Its eastern terminus is at an interchange with I-264 and I-664 at Bowers Hill in Chesapeake, Virginia. As I-64 is concurrent with...

 and Interstate 295
Interstate 295 (Virginia)
Interstate 295 is an eastern and northern bypass of the cities of Richmond and Petersburg in the U.S. state of Virginia. The southern terminus is a junction with Interstate 95 southeast of Petersburg...

. Sometime between 1611 and 1614, he moved further north to Matchut, in present-day King William County
King William County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 13,146 people, 4,846 households, and 3,784 families residing in the county. The population density was 48 people per square mile . There were 5,189 housing units at an average density of 19 per square mile...

 on the north bank of the Pamunkey River
Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River is a tributary of the York River, about long, in eastern Virginia in the United States. Via the York River it is part of the watershed of Chesapeake Bay.-Course:...

, not far from where his brother Opechancanough ruled one of the member tribes at Youghtanund.

Characteristics


The Powhatan lived east of the fall line
Fall line
A fall line is a geomorphologic unconformity between an upland region of relatively hard crystalline basement rock and a coastal plain of softer sedimentary rock. A fall line is typically prominent when crossed by a river, for there will often be rapids or waterfalls...

 in Tidewater Virginia. They built their houses, called yehakins, by bending saplings and placing woven mats or bark over top of the saplings. They supported themselves primarily by growing crops, especially maize
Maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

, but they also fished and hunted in the great forest in their area. Villages consisted of a number of related families organized in tribes led by a chief (weroance/werowance or weroansqua if female). They paid tribute to the paramount chief (mamanatowick), Powhatan.

According to research by the National Park Service, Powhatan "men were warriors and hunters, while women were gardeners and gatherers. The English described the men, who ran and walked extensively through the woods in pursuit of enemies or game, as tall and lean and possessed of handsome physiques. The women were shorter, and were strong because of the hours they spent tending crops, pounding corn into meal, gathering nuts, and performing other domestic chores. When the men undertook extended hunts, the women went ahead of them to construct hunting camps. The Powhatan domestic economy depended on the labor of both sexes."

All of Virginia's natives practiced agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

. They periodically moved their villages from site to site. Villagers cleared the fields by felling, girdling
Girdling
Girdling, also called ring barking or ring-barking, is the complete removal of a strip of bark from around the entire circumference of either a branch or trunk of a woody plant. Girdling results in the death of wood tissues beyond the damage...

, or firing trees at the base and then using fire to reduce the slash
Slash (logging)
Slash, or slashings, is a forestry term that refers to coarse and fine woody debris generated during logging operations or through wind, snow or other natural forest disturbances. Slash generated during logging operations may increase fire hazard and some North American states have passed laws...

 and stumps. A village became unusable as soil productivity gradually declined and local fish and game were depleted. The inhabitants then moved on. With every change in location, the people used fire to clear new land. They left more cleared land behind. The natives also used fire to maintain extensive areas of open game habitat throughout the East, later called "barrens" by European colonists. The Powhatan also had rich fishing grounds. Bison
American Bison
The American bison , also commonly known as the American buffalo, is a North American species of bison that once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds...

 had migrated to this area by the early 15th century.

State and federal recognition


As of 2010, the state of Virginia has recognized eight Powhatan Indian-descended tribes in Virginia. Collectively, the tribes currently have 3,000-3,500 enrolled tribal members. It is estimated, however, that 3 to 4 times that number are eligible for tribal membership. Two of these tribes, the Mattaponi
Mattaponi
The Mattaponi tribe is one of only two Virginia Indian tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia that owns reservation land. The larger Mattaponi Indian Tribe lives in King William County on reservation lands that stretch along the borders of the Mattaponi River, near West Point, Virginia.The...

 and Pamunkey
Pamunkey
The Pamunkey nation are one of eleven Virginia Indian tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The historical tribe was part of the Powhatan paramountcy, made up of Algonquian-speaking tribes. The Powhatan paramount chiefdom was made up over 30 tribes, estimated to total about...

, still retain their reservations from the 17th century and are located in King William County, Virginia
King William County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 13,146 people, 4,846 households, and 3,784 families residing in the county. The population density was 48 people per square mile . There were 5,189 housing units at an average density of 19 per square mile...

.

Since the 1990s, the Powhatan Indian tribes which have state recognition, along with other Virginia Indian tribes which have state recognition, have been seeking federal recognition. That recognition process has proved difficult as it has been hampered by the lack of official records to verify heritage and by the historical misclassification of family members in the 1930s and 1940s, largely a result of Virginia's state policy of race classification on official documents.

After Virginia passed stringent segregation
Racial segregation in the United States
Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, included the racial segregation or hypersegregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines...

 laws in the early 20th century and ultimately the Racial Integrity Act of 1924
Racial Integrity Act of 1924
On March 20, 1924 the Virginia General Assembly passed two laws that had arisen out of contemporary concerns about eugenics and race: SB 219, entitled "The Racial Integrity Act" and SB 281, "An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases",...

 which mandated every person who had any African heritage be deemed black, Walter Plecker, the head of Vital Statistics office, directed all state and local registration offices to use only the terms "white" or "colored" to denote race on official documents and thereby eliminated all traceable records of Virginia Indians. All state documents, including birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, tax forms and land deeds, thus bear no record of Virginia Indians. Plecker oversaw the Vital Statistics office in the state for more than 30 years, beginning in the early 20th century, and took a personal interest in eliminating traces of Virginia Indians. As a follower of the eugenics
Eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

 movement and, by modern day standards, a white supremacist
White supremacy
White supremacy is the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds. The term is sometimes used specifically to describe a political ideology that advocates the social and political dominance by whites.White supremacy, as with racial...

, Plecker falsely surmised that there were no true Virginia Indians remaining as years of intermarriage has diluted the race. Over his years of service, he conducted a campaign to reclassify all bi-racial and multi-racial individuals as black, believing such persons were fraudulently attempting to claim their race to be Indian or white. The effect of his reclassification has been described by tribal members as "paper genocide".

Initially, the Virginia tribes' efforts to gain federal recognition encountered resistance due to federal legislators' concerns over whether gambling would be established on their lands if recognition were granted, as it would raise federal tax concerns and also casinos are illegal in Virginia. In March 2009, five of the state-recognized Powhatan Indian tribes and the one other state-recognized Virginia Indian tribe introduced a bill to gain federal recognition through an act of Congress. The bill, "The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act", included a section forbidding the tribes from opening casinos, even if casinos became legal in Virginia. The House Committee on Natural Resources recommended the bill be considered by the US House of Representatives at the end of April, the House approved the bill on June 3, 2009. The bill was then sent to the Senate's Committee on Indian Affairs, who recommended it be heard by the Senate as a whole in October. On December 23, 2009, the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under general orders, which is where the bill is currently. The bill currently has a hold on it placed for "jurisdictional concerns" as Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok) believes requests for tribal recognition should be processed through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a process the Virginia tribes cannot utilize because of Walter Plecker. The bill died in the Senate.

In February 2011, the six Virginia tribes started the process again to try to gain federal recognition. They introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives and a companion bill in the Senate on the same day. As of April 2011, the bills are in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the Subcommittee Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, respectively.

Powhatan language



The language of the Powhatan Indians is now dormant and much of the vocabulary bank is forgotten. Attempts have been made to reconstruct the vocabulary of the language using sources such as word lists provided by Smith and by 17th-century writer William Strachey
William Strachey
William Strachey was an English writer whose works are among the primary sources for the early history of the English colonisation of North America...

.

Powhatan Renape


The Powhatan Renape are a band of Powhatan descendants who relocated to present-day New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 and are officially recognized by that state. The actual term "Renape" is a common Algonquian word mean "true humans", as in the name Lenape
Lenape
The Lenape are an Algonquian group of Native Americans of the Northeastern Woodlands. They are also called Delaware Indians. As a result of the American Revolutionary War and later Indian removals from the eastern United States, today the main groups live in Canada, where they are enrolled in the...

(Lenni Lenape) — the native inhabitants of the land that is present-day New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

No cognate of Renape was ever recorded for Virginia Algonquian, although the form Renapoaks was recorded for Carolina Algonquian
Carolina Algonquian language
Carolina Algonquian is an extinct Algonquian language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup formerly spoken in North Carolina, United States....

 by Ralph Lane
Ralph Lane
Sir Ralph Lane was an English explorer of the Elizabethan era. He was part of the unsuccessful attempt in 1585 to colonize Roanoke Island, North Carolina. He also served the Crown in Ireland and was knighted by the Queen in 1593....

 in 1586 (as a term used by the inhabitants of Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island is an island in Dare County near the coast of North Carolina, United States. It was named after the historical Roanoke Carolina Algonquian people who inhabited the area in the 16th century at the time of English exploration....

 for all those on the mainland).

The Powhatan Renape are presently struggling to retain their lease of >250 acres in New Jersey. It appears that the State will be taking back all but 5 acres.
PhillyNews Article - Sep.2010

Powhatan and film


The Powhatan people are featured in the Disney
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio owned by The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios and the main production company for live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, based at the Walt Disney...

 animated film Pocahontas
Pocahontas (1995 film)
Pocahontas is the 33rd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. It was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and was originally released to selected theaters on June 16, 1995 by Walt Disney Pictures...

(1995). They also appeared in the straight-to-video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World is a 1998 straight-to-video sequel to the 1995 Disney film Pocahontas. The film is inspired by true events in the life of Pocahontas which took place several years after her encounter with John Smith and the founders of Jamestown...

(1998). An attempt at a more historically accurate representation was the drama The New World (2005), but it still relied on the myth of a romance between Pocahontas
Pocahontas
Pocahontas was a Virginia Indian notable for her association with the colonial settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of Chief Powhatan, the head of a network of tributary tribal nations in Tidewater Virginia...

 and John Smith. Her husband was John Rolfe
John Rolfe
John Rolfe was one of the early English settlers of North America. He is credited with the first successful cultivation of tobacco as an export crop in the Colony of Virginia and is known as the husband of Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy.In 1961, the Jamestown...

 in reality.

In fact, she married her father's bravest Patawomeck
Patawomeck
The Patawomeck tribe of Virginia Indians is based in Stafford County, Virginia, along the Potomac River . It is one of Virginia's 11 recognized American Indian tribes. It is not federally recognized...

 warrior, Kocoum after Captain Smith went home to England. Three years later, Samuel Argall
Samuel Argall
Sir Samuel Argall was an English adventurer and naval officer.As a sea captain, in 1609, Argall was the first to determine a shorter northern route from England across the Atlantic Ocean to the new English colony of Virginia, based at Jamestown, and made numerous voyages to the New World...

 abducted her for ransom because her tribe stole weapons and agricultural tools from the colony.

Some of the current members of Powhatan-descended tribes complained about the Disney film. Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Renape Nation said the Disney movie "distorts history beyond recognition."

See also

  • Black Indians
    Black Indians
    Black Native Americans is a term that refers to people of African-American descent, usually with significant Native American ancestry, who also have strong ties to Native American culture, social, and historical traditions....

  • Native Americans in the United States
    Native Americans in the United States
    Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

  • Native American tribe
  • One-drop rule
    One-drop rule
    The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; meaning any person with "one drop of black blood" was considered black...

  • Powhatan language
    Powhatan language
    Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian is an extinct language belonging to the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian languages. It was spoken by the Powhatan people of tidewater Virginia. It became extinct around the 1790s after speakers switched to English. The sole documentary evidence for this...


Further reading

  • Gleach, Frederic W. (1997) Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Gleach, Frederic W. (2006) "Pocahontas: An Exercise in Mythmaking and Marketing", In New Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations, ed. by Sergei A. Kan and Pauline Turner Strong, pp. 433–455. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Karen Kupperman, Settling With the Indians: The Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640, 1980
  • A. Bryant Nichols Jr., Captain Christopher Newport: Admiral of Virginia, Sea Venture, 2007
  • James Rice, Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson, 2009.
  • Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries, 1990

External links