Werowocomoco

Werowocomoco

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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
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. They lived in the coastal plain
Coastal plain
A coastal plain is an area of flat, low-lying land adjacent to a seacoast and separated from the interior by other features. One of the world's longest coastal plains is located in eastern South America. The southwestern coastal plain of North America is notable for its species diversity...

 area they 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...

, in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA.

"Werowocomoco" was documented by English settlers in 1608 as 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 what is now 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...

 — separated by that river and the narrow Virginia Peninsula
Virginia Peninsula
The Virginia Peninsula is a peninsula in southeast Virginia, USA, bounded by the York River, James River, Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay.Hampton Roads is the common name for the metropolitan area that surrounds the body of water of the same name...

 from 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...

. Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney is located at present day Wicomico, in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA.Powhatan's Chimney was long considered clue to the site of Werowocomoco, a capital village of Chief Powhatan in what is now Virginia...

, a site of historical ruins, was traditionally thought to have been the site of the center.

In 2002–2003, an archaeological survey and subsequent excavations indicated a site further west on Purtan Bay was likely the location. Work here has revealed a 50 acres (202,343 m²) settlement with extensive artifacts and complex earthworks built about 1400 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. It extends more than 1000 feet (304.8 m) back from the water. The village was first built and inhabited about 1200 CE, in the late Woodland period
Woodland period
The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures was from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term "Woodland Period" was introduced in the 1930s as a generic header for prehistoric sites falling between the Archaic hunter-gatherers and the...

. Further study and research continues. The landowners and archaeology team based at William and Mary have consulted on the excavations with representatives of Virginia Indian tribes, who are descendants of the Powhatan chiefdom. In 2006 the Werowocomoco Archaeological Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

.

Powhatan Confederacy


The Powhatan (also spelled Powatan and Powhaten) were a powerful chiefdom headed by Wahunsunacock (the 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...

) formed in the late 16th century. When this chief created a paramount chiefdom by conquering much of the coastal plain of Virginia, he called his lands "Tsenacommacah
Tsenacommacah
Tsenacommacah is what the Powhatan Indians called their homeland. This area encompassed all of Tidewater Virginia and parts of the Eastern Shore...

". He was referred to as "Powhatan", his title. His initial headquarters was known by the same name (in the present-day Powhatan Hill neighborhood 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...

). It was name for 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...

, where there are rapids (or "rushing water") on 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...

 at the head of navigation.

The name Werowocomoco comes from the Powhatan werowans (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" in English; and komakah (-comoco), "settlement". Werowocomoco was more centrally located than Powhatan's first settlement. He may have wanted to be at the heart of the region of approximately 30 tributary tribes and their traditional areas.

In 2002–2003 a comprehensive archaeological survey and excavations revealed an extensive settlement on the York River which researchers believe is Werowocomoco. Excavation has revealed that the settlement was inhabited since 1200 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

, and complex earthworks were built about 1400 CE. Powhatan may have made use of a site well-known to his people as a regional center.

Pocahontas and Captain John Smith


Werowocomoco was the site of interaction between Powhatan and English colonists from Jamestown. It is best known as the site of the rescue of English soldier John Smith by 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...

, the daughter of Powhatan. He had been captured while foraging along 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...

.

According to Smith's account, Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan's daughter, prevented her father from executing Smith in December 1607. Historians have been somewhat skeptical of this account, and a few believe he may have misinterpreted a ritual intended to adopt Smith into the tribe. (Smith made no mention of the incident in his own writings until 1624, some 17 years after the fact, and completely omitted it in his 1608 and 1612 editions). After 400 years, there is little chance of verifying the story. Its mythic appeal has been popularized in novels and film, including animated versions.

Capital relocated from Werowocomoco


The English colonists were often driven to desperation during the winters by their inability to find food. In December 1608, Chief Powhatan offered to sell them an entire "shipload of corn in exchange for a grindstone, fifty swords, some guns, a cock and a hen, copper and beads, and some men to build him an English-style house." Smith accepted this proposal, but instead of giving Powhatan weapons, the settler planned to surprise him and take the corn by force. Sending four "Dutchmen" (Germans) ahead by land to work on the house, Smith headed for Werowocomoco by sea on December 29 with a small force. While en route at Warraskoyack, he received a report that Powhatan was plotting an ambush on him.

Smith arrived, after many stops, on January 12, 1609. The next day he was taken to see progress on the Chief's new house in the vicinity. As it happened, Smith's men and Powhatan's men, after failing to persuade each other to disarm, tried to ambush each other simultaneously during the negotiations. After these feints, the English had their corn. Smith's party then travelled up the Pamunkey river to trade with the Chief's brother, Opechancanough, whom they ended up threatening at gunpoint. When they returned to Werowocomoco a few days later, they were surprised to find the house still unfinished and the entire town completely abandoned, for which they blamed the Germans. Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney is located at present day Wicomico, in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA.Powhatan's Chimney was long considered clue to the site of Werowocomoco, a capital village of Chief Powhatan in what is now Virginia...

 has long been purported to be site of the remains of this uncompleted house. The discovery of archaeological remains of a more substantial settlement on Purtan Bay makes this unlikely.

Powhatan moved his capital 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:...

. After Powhatan's death in 1618, his younger brother Opechancanough ruled near here at Youghtanund.

Smith describes location


The location of Werowocomoco was lost during the 17th century. Scholars believed 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...

 (a town established at the confluence of the Pamunkey River and Mattaponi Rivers at the headwaters 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...

) seemed to meet a description in writings of John Smith
John Smith of Jamestown
Captain John Smith Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and friend Mózes Székely...

.

Powhatan's Chimney


Traditionally, people thought that Werowocomoco was located near Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney is located at present day Wicomico, in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA.Powhatan's Chimney was long considered clue to the site of Werowocomoco, a capital village of Chief Powhatan in what is now Virginia...

 in the area of Timberneck Bay, slightly upstream on the York River from Gloucester Point
Gloucester Point, Virginia
Gloucester Point is a census-designated place in Gloucester County, Virginia, United States. The population was 9,429 at the 2000 census. It is also home to The College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a graduate school for the study of oceanography.-Geography:Gloucester...

. European settlers and their descendants called the area Werowocomoco. Its name was changed to Wicomico
Wicomico, Virginia
Wicomico is an unincorporated community in Gloucester County, in the U. S. state of Virginia.-References:...

 by the US Post Office in favor of a shorter version when a post office was established there.

The area known as Wicomico is the site of Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney is located at present day Wicomico, in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA.Powhatan's Chimney was long considered clue to the site of Werowocomoco, a capital village of Chief Powhatan in what is now Virginia...

. It is about 25 miles (40.2 km) east of present-day West Point, Virginia
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...

. According to colonist John Smith:
"Fourteene myles from the river Powhatan is the river Pamunkee, which is navaginable 60 or 70 myles, but with Cathes and small Barkes 30 or 40 myles further. At he ordinary flowing of the salt water, it divideth itself into two gallent branches. On the South side inhabited the people Toughtamand (?), who haue about 60 men for warres. On the North branch Mattapoment, who has 30 men. Where the river is divided the Country is called Pamaunkee, and nourisheth neare 300 able men. About 25 myles lower on the North side of this river is Werawocomoco, where their great king inhibited when I was delivered him prisoner; yet there are not past 40 able men."(sic)


By local legend, a chimney on the site remained from a house built by Smith for Powhatan at the latter's regional village.

Purtan Bay - Werowocomoco archeological site


In 1977, Daniel Mouer, an archaeologist at Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University is a public university located in Richmond, Virginia. It comprises two campuses in the Downtown Richmond area, the product of a merger between the Richmond Professional Institute and the Medical College of Virginia in 1968...

 (VCU) identified a site further west along the York River at Purtan Bay as the possible location. Dr. Mouer collected artifacts from the surface of plowed fields and along the beach. He found fragments of Indian ceramics from the Late Woodland Period
Woodland period
The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures was from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term "Woodland Period" was introduced in the 1930s as a generic header for prehistoric sites falling between the Archaic hunter-gatherers and the...

 to European contact, and determined that this area was the "possible site of 'Werowocomoco'." Based on his findings, the area was designated a Virginia Historic Site.

In 2002 the Ripleys, later landowners, authorized additional archaeological exploration. They had already found many ancient projectile points on the surface. Between March 2002 and April 2003, archaeologists conducted a comprehensive survey of a portion of the property. Initial testing included digging 603 test holes, each 12 to 16 inches (406.4 mm) deep and 50 feet (15.2 m) apart. They found thousands of artifacts throughout the site, meaning that it had integrity and had not been much disturbed. These finds included a blue bead possibly made in Europe for trading
Trade
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

. Together with historical descriptions, these findings showing substantial, extended settlement, suggested the farm was the site of Werowocomoco. "We believe we have sufficient evidence to confirm that the property is indeed the village of Werowocomoco", said Randolph Turner, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources' Portsmouth Regional Office in 2003.
The Purtan Bay site is less than 25 miles (40.2 km) from West Point and 15 miles (24.1 km) from Jamestown. Studies of the early mapping evidence support scholars' conclusions as to its likelihood as Weowocomoco.

Two Gloucester-based archaeologists, Thane Harpole and David Brown, have been instrumental in the work at the Purtan Bay site since 2002. Starting that year, the Werowocomoco Research Group was formed to begin excavations. The Research Group is a collaborative effort of the College of William and Mary
College of William and Mary
The College of William & Mary in Virginia is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States...

, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and Virginia tribes descended from the Powhatan.

The excavations revealed a dispersed village community of about 50 acres (202,343 m²), occupied from the 13th through the early 17th century (Woodland to early Contact). Artifacts recovered include Native pottery and stone tools, as well as floral and faunal remains from a large residential community. The Research Group has also recovered numerous English trade goods, produced from glass, copper
Copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

, and other metals, that came from Jamestown. This conforms to colonists' accounts of trading at Werowocomoco that emphasized Powhatan's interest in English objects, particularly copper, during the early days of the Jamestown colony.

In 2004, researchers discovered two large earthworks
Earthworks (archaeology)
In archaeology, earthwork is a general term to describe artificial changes in land level. Earthworks are often known colloquially as 'lumps and bumps'. Earthworks can themselves be archaeological features or they can show features beneath the surface...

, curving ditches, each more than 200 feet (61 m) in length and located about 1000 feet (304.8 m) from the river. They may be part of a D-shaped construction noted on a 1612 map by John Smith
John Smith of Jamestown
Captain John Smith Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and friend Mózes Székely...

. They determined the ditches dated from about 1400 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

, indicating long-term settlement at this site by Virginia Indians more than 200 years prior to the Jamestown settlement. Earthwork constructions were often integral to ceremonial centers and may have defined or separated a sacred area. Continuing discoveries from excavations are helping scholars understand Virginia Indian-European relations. The period of interaction at this site was brief in relation to the hundreds of years of prior indigenous settlement.

Unlike some earlier projects, this one is notable because archaeologists and other researchers have carefully incorporated consultation about planning and executing the excavations with members of the local recognized Virginia Indian tribes who are descendants of the Powhatan. These include 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...

, who consider sacred such sites including burial artifacts.
"When I step on this site folks...I just feel different. The spirituality just touches me and I feel it." Stephen R. Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Tribe and a member of the Virginia Indian advisory board.


Because of the significance of the excavations, in 2006 the Werwomocomo Archaeological Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

 (NRHP).

Gloucester County


Both the newly identified site on Purtan Bay and the site of Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney
Powhatan's Chimney is located at present day Wicomico, in Gloucester County, Virginia, USA.Powhatan's Chimney was long considered clue to the site of Werowocomoco, a capital village of Chief Powhatan in what is now Virginia...

 at Wicomico
Wicomico, Virginia
Wicomico is an unincorporated community in Gloucester County, in the U. S. state of Virginia.-References:...

, also thought to have been the site of Werowocomoco, are located within an area that the Native Americans may have considered Werowocomoco. The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors noted that the village of the chief in the 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 was not a place name, but more correctly translated as a reference to the lands where he lived. The culture frequently relocated quarters within a general area.

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