The Third Anglo-Powhatan War

The third Anglo-Powhatan war (1644 to 1646) started with a large, coordinated strike by Powhatan warriors against the Virginia colonists. Several outlying settlements were struck with the Powhatan killing and/or capturing between 400 and 500 English settlers. At this time, there were 8,000 to 10,000 English colonists in Virginia.

The Powhatan, an alliance of several groups, were led by the elderly Opechancanough who was about 100 years old at this time. Opechancanough had also led the early 1622 Powahatan war against the English.

The English had established Jamestown as a mercantile venture in 1607. Since that time, tobacco had become an important export crop, so the English demand for increasing amounts of good farm land had increased. Ignoring the fact that the Indian nations of Virginia were agricultural, the newly arrived colonists simply assumed that the Indian fields were somehow “vacant” and available to them.

From the Powhatan perspective, the coordinated attacks against settlements which had encroached in their territory were meant to send a message to the English. In his book Powhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia, anthropologist Frederick Gleach writes: “Like his earlier attack, the 1644 coup can be best understood as an attempt by Opechancanough to correct the colonists’ inappropriate behavior and to stay their ceaseless expansion.”

The English colonists responded to the attacks by declaring a general war against the Powhatan. All private trade with the Powhatan was to be terminated. The Virginia Assembly felt that the Indians had obtained guns, powder, and shot through private trade. However, it was soon apparent that the colonists needed the trade in order to survive: without Indian corn they would starve. In 1645, the Assembly allowed authorized agents to trade with the Indians in order to obtain the badly needed grain.

The colonists attacked the Pamunkey and Chickahominy, two tribes affiliated with the Powhatan alliance. The Weyanocks, fearing English attacks, moved south of the Blackwater Swamp and purchased land from the Tuscarora.

In 1646, the General Assembly authorized a force under Lieutentant Francis Poythers to find Openchancanough and press for peace. Poythers, a trader with general knowledge of Virginia Indians, had experience in dealing with Opechancanough regarding land claims. Poythers, however, was unable to find Opechancanough.

A force led by Governor Berkley and aided by Rappahannock and Accomac allies manage to capture Openchancanough between the falls of the Appomattox and James rivers. At this time, the elderly Indian leader was unable to walk unaided. The English treated Opechancanough as a side show, displaying him to curious English colonists. The Indian leader, however, maintained his dignity and upbraided the English commander for the English’s lack of respect. The English commander then ordered that Opechancanough be treated with the dignity befitting his station.

The English governor considered sending Openchancanough to England where His Majesty would be presented with a royal prisoner (the English considered Indians chiefs to be royalty, not understanding any of the concepts of Indian government). Before a decision regarding his fate could be made, one of the guards took matters into his own hands and shot the elderly leader in the back. The wound proved to be fatal.

Hundreds of Indians who had been captured by the English during the Third Anglo-Powhatan War were sold into slavery.

With the death of Opechancanough, Necotowance assumed leadership of the Powhatan alliance and negotiated a new treaty with the English. This treaty was the first time Necotowance’s name appeared in the English written records and there is no indication that the English had ever had any previous dealings with him.

The peace treaty between the English colonists and the Powhattan called for the removal of the Powhatan Confederacy to an area north of the York River. Necotowance signed the treaty as “king of the Indians.” The treaty established a pattern of removing Indian nations away from the invading Europeans as a strategy to reduce the conflict between the two groups.

The Second Anglo-Powhatan War

The years after the 1614 treaty between the English and the Chickahominy were relatively peaceful. During this time the English colonists in Jamestown expanded their tobacco raising enterprises, often appropriating Indian corn fields for this export crop.

In 1618, Wahunsonacock (also known as The Powhatan) died. There was a leadership struggle among the Powhatan and Opechancanoe emerged as the new leader of the confederacy.

Concerned about the increasing use of guns by the Powhatan, in 1618 the English decreed that Indians were not to be taught to shoot guns. The decree mandated death for both teacher and student. The following year, a death penalty was established for anyone selling guns to the Indians.

In 1621, the Reverend Jonas Stockam preached that the only way of bringing the gospel to the Indians was to kill the elders: “till their Priests and Ancients have their throats cut, there is no hope of bringing them to conversion.”

The flash point that started the Second Anglo-Powhatan War centered around Nemattanew (Jack of the Feathers), the charismatic war chief of the Pamunkey. Nemattanew would go to war covered with feathers and with swans’ wings attached to his shoulders. In some instances, he would bewitch enemy warriors, including the English soldiers.  He had been revitalizing native culture and warrior traditions, preparing them for combat against muskets. He was thought to be invulnerable to bullets.

The starting point of the Second Anglo-Powhatan War is generally traced to 1622 when Nemattanew persuaded an Englishman named Morgan to go to Pamunkey to trade. This was the last anyone saw of Morgan. A few days later, however, Nemattanew went to Morgan’s house and informed the two young male servants there that Morgan was dead. The young men noticed that Nemattanew was wearing Morgan’s hat and they tried to take him to the authorities. When he refused, they shot him. As he was dying, he asked the young men not to reveal how he died.

Opechancanough was upset when news of Nemattanew’s death reached him and he vowed revenge. However, it also seems that he had been planning his attack on the English colonists for over a year. The death of Nemattanew simply provided an additional excuse for the war.

Two weeks after Nemattanew’s death, the Indians entered into the English villages, just as they often had in the past, bringing them presents of food. The next morning, they joined the colonists for breakfast and even joined them in working the fields. The Indians had come unarmed so there was little concern among the colonists. Then the Indians picked up the colonists’ tools and guns and began an unprecedented slaughter, killing men, women, and children. By the day’s end, 350 English colonists—one-fourth of the colony’s total population—were dead. The official count was 347 dead, but after its dissolution, the Virginia Company indicated that about 400 were slain.

Jamestown was not attacked. According to some accounts, often told a couple of centuries after the war, Christian Indians had warned the Jamestown colonists of the coming attack. The official account of the attacks, written shortly afterwards, makes no mention of this warning. In the nineteenth century histories of the colony, an Indian boy named Chanco is credited with warning the colonists, and yet no contemporary accounts of the colony make mention of this name.

The attack took the English by surprise and many argued that this strategy had been so clever that it could not have been masterminded by Indians and credited the Spanish with engineering it. There was, however, no evidence that the Spanish were involved.

The English retaliated with a series of raids on the Indians. Instructions from London to the Virginia colonies called for a perpetual war to exterminate the Indians and the Governor of Virginia issued a directive to rob, hunt down, and kill the Indians of the area. Military commanders were ordered not to make peace on any terms. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Wilcomb Washburn notes: “the attack provided a ready-made justification for waging perpetual war (as Christian legal theory allowed against infidels) against any and all Indians. Too often the rules of honor were abandoned in the process.”

The Powhatan did not plan on engaging in a protracted war. They made their attacks, suffered few losses, and then did not make further assaults on the colonists. Unlike European warfare, Indian warfare was not about extermination. From an Indian perspective, the colonists were unruly and not behaving according to the natural laws that governed Indian conduct. The attacks were intended to simply teach the colonists a lesson. The goal was to restrict them to a small territory, to put an end to Christian proselytizing, and to demonstrate Powhatan power. By attacking only the outlying colonies and not Jamestown itself, the Powhatan attempted to show the English that these settlements were inappropriate.

The English colonists, of course, misinterpreted the message. They continued to view themselves as being endowed by their religion to occupy the lands of others, to convert them, and to rule all non-Christian nations.

 

Virginia and the Indians, 1606 to 1608

Because England is a Christian nation, the Discovery Doctrine supposedly gave it the right to govern all non-Christian nations. In 1606, therefore, England was able to give a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company to develop a market in the New World for English commerce and for “propagating of Christian Religion to such people, as yet live in darkness.” In this charter, Indians were characterized as living “in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God.”

The Virginia Company, a corporation, was founded and directed by a group of merchants and gentry who were motivated in part by the promise of strong economic returns for their investment. Their Royal Charter gave them permission to exploit the riches of Virginia with little or no concern to any possible ownership of these riches by Indian nations. The Company planned to establish a trading post which would acquire valuable furs from the Indians and to sell the Indians manufactured goods and textiles. In addition, the Company planned to search for gold and to exploit the timber resources of the region.

In addition to seeking profits, the Company also indicated that it would seek the conversion of the heathen (that is, conversion of Indians to Protestant Christianity), the expansion of the English kingdom, increased revenues for the king, and employment for the English vagrant poor.

The following year, three English ships brought 120 British settlers into Chesapeake Bay who established a colony at Jamestown. At this time there were an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Indians living in the area that would become Virgina. The major tribal confederacy in the area was the Powhatan (also spelled Powhattan), an Algonquian-speaking confederacy of about 30 tribes (some sources indicate as many as 43 tribes). These tribes included the Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Rappahannock. The alliance of these tribes had formed in the late 1500s, just prior to the English invasion, by a Pamunkey chief named Wahunsonacock. His capital was located at the falls of the James River in Virginia. This was called Powhatan which means “Falls of the River” and thus the allied tribes were known as the Powhatan. To confuse the matter a bit, Wahunsonacok was also called The Powhatan or simply Powhatan.

Captain John Smith led a small party up the Chickahominy River. The English were attacked by about 200 Pamunkey warriors who captured Smith and killed his companions. The Pamunkey, under the leadership of Opechancanough, were a part of the larger Powhatan Confederacy. Smith was taken before the dominant chief, Powhatan, and was eventually released. Smith, described by his contemporaries as a self-promoting mercenary, reported that he had been kept in a comfortable and friendly fashion. Many years later he would tell a story about being on the verge of being clubbed to death when a prominent woman intervened and saved his life. In one version of the story, he named Pocahontas (a nickname meaning the “spoiled child”) as the woman who saved his life (she was about 10 years old at the time). He told this story only after the death of Pocahontas and after she had gained some fame among the English.

While English writers often describe the Indians as hunters, they were actually farmers who had been planting crops in the region for several centuries. The English were delighted by some of the Indian crops, including strawberries (which were described as being larger and tastier than those in England) and persimmons. Persimmon bread was a common Indian gift.

The English looked upon the land as vacant, even when it had been cleared and planted with the Indian crops of maize (corn), beans, and squash. For the English, land was occupied only when it was laid out in neat rectangles, fenced, and used for a single crop. Since the Indians cleared their lands by burning and used intercropping—the practice of planting crops together—their lands did not look “neat” and “occupied” to English eyes. The English also seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the park-like wilderness was actually a well-managed ecosystem which the Indians maintained by regularly burning it.

One exploring expedition from the Virginia Company at Jamestown traveled up the James River. When the group encountered some Indians in a canoe, the group’s leader, Christopher Newport, asked them for directions. One of Indians sketched a map of the river, its falls, and two native kingdoms beyond the falls. When the English party reached the falls, Newport wanted to continue exploring on foot, but was told by Pawatah, a local village leader, that the Monacan would attack them for entering their territory.

In 1608, the English colonists at Jamestown found that most of their stores were rotten or had been eaten by rats. The countryside around them had abundant game, and John Smith encouraged the colonists to live off the land. Smith sent groups to different places to gather food resources. However, many of the colonists were unaccustomed to living off the land and found it easier to trade with the Indians for supplies. As a result, the settlement was stripped of items—particularly metal items—which could be used for trade. In addition, some colonists deserted to live with the Indians whose way of life they preferred.

With regard to trade, the English introduced a new trade item to the Powhatan: sky blue Venetian glass beads. The traders told the Indians that these were a rare substance and that they were worn only by kings.

The English soon realized that Powhatan led a confederacy of about 30 different groups and his cooperation would be vital to their continued existence. From a European perspective, leaders such as Powhatan needed to be kings and so they decided to conduct a coronation ceremony for him which would make him a king with loyalty to the British Crown. The ceremony was a comedy of cultural misunderstandings as the English attempted to choreograph a feudal ceremony in a society in which two key elements of the ceremony – the crown and the act of bending the knee – were unknown.

John Smith led a small group south on the Chesapeake Bay and up the Patuxent and Rappahannock Rivers. They had a short battle with the Mannahoac in which they wounded and captured Amoroleck. Amoroleck reported that there were four Mannahoac villages on the Rappahannock, each of which had its own leader. When asked what lay beyond the mountains, Amoroleck indicated that he did not know as the woods had not been burnt.

The English explorers made contact with an Algonquian-speaking group whom they called Tockwogh (possibly the Nanticoke?). With the help of the Tockwogh, the English then contacted an Iroquoian-speaking group, the Susquehannock and exchanged gifts with them. The English described the Susquehannock as a “giant-like people” because they were significantly taller than the English.

Later, a group of about 60 Susquehannock visited Captain John Smith and the English colonists.

Captain John Smith attempted to obtain corn from the Pamunkey who were under the leadership of Opechancanough. When the chief indicated that he was unwilling to trade, the captain held a gun to the chief’s breast and threatened to kill him unless the English boats were filled with twenty tons of corn. He also told the Pamunkey that if they did not fill his boats with corn, he would fill it with their dead carcasses.

English colonists heard rumors about an Indian mine in the interior. Lured by the possibility of gold, John Smith and six others set off to verify its existence. They employed Potomac guides who they placed in chains during their march. They found a great hole which had been dug with shells and hatchets. The mine, developed by the Indians to obtain minerals for making body paints, failed to yield any gold.

Jamestown and the Indians: the First Decade

By the early 17th century, the British were becoming concerned about the inroads which the Catholic French and Spanish were making in North America. In 1606, the British monarch gave a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company to develop a market in the New World for English commerce and for “propagating of Christian Religion to such people, as yet live in darkness.” In this charter, Indians were characterized as living

“in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God.”

The Virginia Company was founded and directed by a group of merchants and gentry who were motivated in part by the promise of strong economic returns for their investment. In order to exploit the rumored riches of North America, the company planned to build a trading post. From here they would be able to acquire furs and other valuables from the Indians and to sell them manufactured goods and textiles. The English investors also envisioned a search for gold and silver as well as the development of industries, such as the production of naval stores and the manufacture of wooden shingles.  

The Virginia Company also sought the conversion of the heathen (that is, converting Indians to Protestant Christianity), the expansion of the English kingdom, increased revenues for the king, employment for the English vagrant poor, and a market for English manufactured goods.  

Having been granted a Royal Charter, the Virginia Company in 1607 sent three ships to transport 120 colonists into Chesapeake Bay and establish a colony at Jamestown. For the next decade they would be in conflict with the Native American nations in the area.

The English looked upon the land as being un-owned and undeveloped in spite of the fact that they had to trade with the Indians who lived in the area for food. While the food sometimes included wild game, it was mostly from the crops which the Indians had planted and harvested. The English were delighted by some of the Indian crops, including strawberries (which were described as being larger and tastier than those in England) and persimmons. Persimmon bread was a common Indian gift.

Shortly after arrival, Captain John Smith led a small party up the Chickahominy River and was captured by a group of Powhatan (the tribe) under the leadership of Opechancanough. He was taken before the dominant chief, Powhatan (the title of a person), and was eventually released. Smith, described by his contemporaries as a self-promoting mercenary, reported that he had been kept in a comfortable and friendly fashion. Many years later he would tell a somewhat different story about being on the verge of being clubbed to death when a prominent woman intervened and saved his life. In one version of the story, he named Pocahontas (a nickname meaning the “spoiled child”) as the woman who saved his life (she was about 10 years old at the time). He told this story only after the death of Pocahontas and after she had gained some fame among the English.

In 1607, an exploring expedition from the Virginia Company at Jamestown traveled up the James River. When the group encountered some Indians in a canoe, the group’s leader, Christopher Newport, asked them for directions. One of them sketched a map of the river, its falls, and two native kingdoms beyond the falls. At the falls, Newport wanted to continue exploring on foot, but was told by Pawatah, a local village leader, that the Monacan would attack them for entering their territory.

In 1608, the English colonists found that most of their store were rotten or had been eaten by rats. The country-side around them had abundant game, and John Smith encouraged the colonists to live off the land. He sent groups to different places to gather food resources. However, many of the colonists preferred to get food by trading with the Indians. Consequently, materials were stripped from the fort so they could be traded to the Indians. Some colonists deserted to live with the Indians whose way of life they preferred.

The English introduced a new trade item to the Powhatan: sky blue Venetian glass beads. The traders told the Indians that these were a rare substance and that they were worn only by kings.

John Smith and a group of Englishmen travelled south on the Chesapeake Bay and up the Patuxent and Rappahannock Rivers. They had a short battle with the Mannahoac in which they wounded and captured Amoroleck. Amoroleck reported that there were four Mannahoac villages on the Rappahannock, each of which had its own leader. When asked what lay beyond the mountains, he indicated that he did not know as the woods were not burnt. The Indians regularly burned the forests to remove the underbrush and to enhance wild game and plants. Woods which were not burned were areas not used by the Indians, and hence “unknown.”  

The English explorers also made contact with an Algonquian-speaking group whom they called Tockwogh (possibly Nanticoke?). With the help of the Tockwogh, the English then contacted an Iroquoian-speaking group, the Susquehannock and exchanged gifts with them. The English described the Susquehannock as a “giantlike-people”.

Captain John Smith attempted to obtain corn from the Pamunkey who were under the leadership of Opechancanough. When the chief indicated that he was unwilling to trade, the captain held a gun to the chief’s breast and threatened to kill him unless their boats were filled with twenty tons of corn. He also told the Pamunkey that if they did not fill his boats with corn, he would fill it with their dead carcasses.

The British in the seventeenth century felt that any legitimate government must have a monarch. In order to “elevate” the Powhatan to the status of a “real” nation, the English attempted to conduct a coronation ceremony for their chief. In this way, the chief would become a “king” and therefore a legitimate ruler in the eyes of the British. The ceremony was a comedy of cultural misunderstandings as the English attempted to choreograph a feudal ceremony in a society in which in two key elements of the ceremony – the crown and the act of bending the knee – were unknown.

One of the things that lured many English colonists to North America were the many rumors of gold and silver just waiting to be found. In 1608, the English colonists heard about an Indian mine in the interior. Lured by the possibility of gold, John Smith and six others with their Potomac guides in chains marched inland to the mine. They found a great hole dug with shells and hatchets. The mine, developed by the Indians to obtain minerals for making body paints, failed to yield any gold.

The first Anglo-Powhatan war began in 1609. The Powhatan felt that the advantages of trading with the English were not enough to warrant the difficulties which they caused. Part of the conflict came from the failure of the English to understand that the basis for the Indian economic system was generalized reciprocity: that is, one gives a gift to another to show that a social relationship exists and to reinforce that relationship and, in return, the recipient of the gift is expected to give another gift in return. When the colonists failed to make a return gift for a present of turkeys sent to them from the Powhatan, the relationship between the two groups was soured.

The violence between the two groups was sporadic and often disorganized. In one instance, the English were warned of an impending attack by Pocahontas. The English seemed to be unaware that her intervention may have been designed and implemented by the tribal council.

The English settlers were aided by Indian allies-Piscataway, Potomac, Nanticoke-who wanted to free themselves from Powhatan domination.

In 1609, an Anglican minister, Robert Gray, defended Indian ownership of the land which culminated in a general recognition of Indian land rights.

In 1610, chief Powhatan told the English settlers to leave his country or to confine themselves to their settlement at Jamestown. The English colonists were aware that the Indians could exterminate them if they so desired. The Powhatan stopped trading with the English and the colonists faced starvation because they could not obtain the corn and other food they needed from the Indians. It is reported that colonists ate their own dead to survive.

The next war began in 1610 when the English colonists, now reinforced by new soldiers and settlers from England, went to war against their Indian neighbors. They attacked the Pasbahegh, Nansemond, Warraskoyack, Kecoughtan, and Chickahominee. For the next four years, the English waged a brutal and atrocity-filled war against the Indians which resembled the English campaigns in Ireland. The English, under the banner of Jesus Christ, waged a religious war against the Indians whom they saw as the dangerous servants of the Devil.

In one attack, the English colonists destroyed a Paspahegh town, killing the female leader (described as the town’s “queen”) and killing a number of women and children. The women and children were killed after they had been captured. The colonists also burned the town of the Queen of Appamatuck.

In 1613, becoming desperate because of inadequate food supplies, the English colonists sent a ship up the Potomac river in an attempt to reach the Patawamakes and establish friendly trading relations with them.  In establishing friendly relations with the Patawamakes, the English found out that Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Powhattan, was living among them. They kidnapped her and held her for ransom. To the dismay of the English, no ransom was paid.

As a condition of her release from her English captors, Pocahontas agreed to marry John Rolfe and become known as Rebecca Rolfe. At the marriage ceremony in 1614, Pocahontas was given away by her uncle Opechancanough. Two years later, John Rolfe took Pocahontas to England where she was used as a part of the Virginia Company’s campaign to gain support for their American colonies.

The English colonists concluded a formal, written treaty with the Chickahominy in 1614. In the treaty the Indians agreed to send an annual tribute payment of corn to Jamestown. The treaty between the English and the Chickahominy appears to have been masterminded by Opechancanough. He seems to have deluded the English into believing that the Chickahominy could be trusted allies. At the same time, he drew the Chickahominy into a close relationship with the Powhatan confederacy.

By 1616, Opechancanough had talked the English into instructing his warriors in the use of the new snaphance muskets which used a flint-on-steel ignition. In exchange, Openchancanough allowed the English to give his people Christian instruction.

The English colonists in 1616 found that their food crops were low because they had been energetically promoting the raising of tobacco instead of food crops. They sent for their annual tribute of corn from the Chickahominy. The Indians, however, claimed that they had already paid the tribute. The next day, the English opened fire and killed 20-40 Indians. The English were unaware of the fact that they had been manipulated into this incident by Opechancanough who had advised the Chickahominy to resist the English demands and who had told the English that the Chickahominy were killing English cattle and swine.  

The first decade of Jamestown establishes the pattern of English settlement: while they rely on Indian help for their survival, they are insensitive to Indian concerns. They see the “solution” to the Indian “problem” in hard power: those who have the best weapons must be right, regardless of morality or law.  

Pass H.R.1385 To Recognize 6 Virginia Tribes

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Please sign the petition to help 6 Virginia Tribes

http://humanrights.change.org/…

This bill has already passed the House. It’s been received in the Senate and read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. This petition will target President Obama The Committee on Indian Affairs and a few other Senators.

Please share this petition on Twitter, Facebook, Email and any other way that you are able to. Thank you for signing!

There is a provision in current law that allows unrecognized tribes to gain recognition through appeal to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 has hurt the Virginia tribes in their prior appeals to the BIA, according to the Washington Times. Tribe officials say the Act forced Indians to identify themselves as “colored” and led to the destruction and alteration of genealogical records.

Tribal proponents say the Virginia law amounted to a “paper genocide” and makes the bureau process difficult for the six groups, although there are some genealogical records that do exist and have been submitted to the bureau. Va. Gov. Tim Kaine called the vote “a major step towards reconciling an historic wrong for Virginia and the nation.”

President Barack Obama has reversed from past presidents and pledged to support recognition of the Lumbee Tribe, which has sought federal oversight for more than a century. According to the AP, Obama has not said whether he will support recognition of the Virginia tribes.

Virginia Before the Europeans

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When the English colonists arrived in what is now the state of Virginia in 1607 and established their small village at Jamestown, they did not find a wilderness. Instead, this was a land inhabited by a settled, agricultural Indian people. Without the Indian agricultural surpluses – corn, beans, squash-which the Indians traded, and often freely gave to the English, it is doubtful that the new colony would have survived for more than a few months, or perhaps only a few weeks.  

The Indians of Virginia are often called Algonquians which refers to a large language family. The aboriginal cultural boundaries of the Virginia Algonquians ran from the coast on the east to the fall line. To the west of the fall line, in the Piedmont area, lived a number of Siouan-speaking tribes who were traditional enemies of the Virginia Algonquians. The southern border of Virginia Algonquian territory was the Dismal Swamp and to the south of this lived Iroquois-speaking tribes. The northern boundary of the Virginia Algonquians was the Potomac River.

The fall line refers to a zone of transition in  the eastern United States where the rivers flow from the harder rocks of the Piedmont to the softer rocks of the coastal plain. As a result, there are a series of waterfalls and/or rapids along the fall line.

Much of the Northeast was inhabited by Algonquian-speaking tribes, such as the Lenni Lenape (also called Delaware), the Massachusett, the Pequot, the Penobscot, the Mi’qmaq, and many others. Linguistically, these tribes are related to Algonquian-speaking tribes in other parts of the continent, such as the Anishinabe (also called Ojibwa and Chippewa), Cree, Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, and Cheyenne.

For several centuries prior to the arrival of the Europeans the Indians of Virginia had been farmers. Their style of farming, which resulted in agricultural surpluses, was, however, very different from that of the English. First of all, it was the women who worked the fields. In fact, the women owned what was produced in the fields.

Depending on the village size, the fields would range from 20 acres to 200 acres.  Their agricultural fields were initially cleared by cutting the trees about three feet above the ground and then burning the trunks and branches. The clearing was often done by large parties of men and women. Using digging sticks, the women and children would then plant seeds among the stumps.  Eventually the stumps were removed from the fields.

One of the major crops raised by American Indians was corn and this was an important food to the Indians of Virginia. Corn was prepared in a number of ways, including making hominy of the kernels and making a stew of beans and corn called succotash. Corn meal ground in wooden mortars was boiled or baked in the shape of cakes or round balls.

In addition to corn, the Virginia Algonquians also grew beans, gourds, pumpkins, passionflower, tobacco, and squash.  

While it is not uncommon for some histories to describe the Indians of Virginia as “hunters” at the time the English colonists arrived, agriculture was far more important economically and contributed more to their diet. Hunting, usually carried out by the men, was used to supplement their agricultural diet.

In their hunting practices, the Indians of Virginia often used fire drives to take large numbers of deer. By setting fire to certain areas, the hunters could drive the deer into their bow and arrow range. It was not uncommon for 200-300 hunters to work together during these drives.

The use of fire in deer hunting had some other ecological consequences. Burning cleared the underbrush, thus making it easier for the hunters to move through the forests. In addition, it encouraged the fresh growth of small leafy vegetation. This in turn, helped support a greater variety of species.

The Virginia Algonquians used a number of different fishing methods, including weirs constructed from reeds, hook and line, nets, and bows with arrows attached with lines. They would also fish at night, using torches to attract the fish.

While the Hollywood stereotypes often show Indians living in a kind of tent called a tipi, the Indians of Virginia, like the other Indians east of the Mississippi River, built permanent houses. Their houses, usually called longhouses, were constructed using a frame of saplings which was then covered with bark. These houses were usually about 20 feet wide and some were over 100 feet long.

Each longhouse served as the home for several related families. Benches or raised platforms along the sides of the houses provided sleeping areas. There would often be several cooking fires within the longhouse, and most commonly two families would share a single fire.

In Virginia, the villages were made up of several smaller hamlets which were lined up along the river. In some instances, there may have been more than 100 houses in a village and in some instances, particularly in Northern Virginia; the villages were fortified with palisades.

In addition to houses, the Virginia Algonquians also constructed storage facilities, sweat lodges, temples, and council houses (machacomocko). The council houses were fairly large and some contained more than one room. The early English explorers in Virginia describe the Great House of the Powhatan as being more than 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. Along its walls were two tiers of benches which could seat several hundred people. The roof of this large building was supported by four carved pillars.

Among the Powhatan in Virginia, the priest lived in the temples where they kept a perpetual fire burning and where they recorded their histories in picture writing. Their writing consisted of pictures painted on hides which recorded the events of the past. The priests conducted ceremonies as well as acting as doctors who cured the sick using both spiritual cures and medicinal remedies.

Among the Virginia Algonquians, children received their first name shortly after birth. Additional names were later acquired and reflected special merits or abilities.

As with many other Indian people in North America, a part of the transition between childhood and adulthood involved a vision-quest. At this time, the child would attempt to obtain a tutelary spirit and in this way establish a personal connection with the supernatural world. It was important for both men and women to have gone through this experience and to have obtained this personal spiritual connection.

Among the Powhatan, the vision-quest ceremony was known as the huskanaw. As a part of this ceremony, the young men ran through a gauntlet several times and become spiritually and ceremonially dead. They were then taken into the woods where they were kept for several months. During this time they would fast and then consume a decoction of intoxicating roots. At the completion of the huskanaw the young men were reborn and returned to their villages. In this way, the boys ended their lives as children and emerged as adult men, full members of the society; and their mothers grieved over the lost relationship with their children.

The Indian tribes along the Atlantic coast were not isolated from one another.  Consequently there was active trading along the coast as well as with the inland tribes. Among the Virginia Algonquians, for example, exotic items from outside of their area, such as copper, were important. Beads made from seashells were an important trade item. Tubular beads, which the English colonists called wampumpeak and dark-colored beads had greater trade value than did disk-shaped beads and white beads.

Among the Virginia Algonquians, pottery was made using a coiled technique and the clay was tempered with crushed shells or quartz.  The pottery was often decorated with fabric impressions.  

Among the Virginia Algonquians, the women made baskets of yucca fiber and Indian hemp. In addition, they also made mats from reeds, yucca, and the inner bark of trees.

During the summer, the men usually wore a plain loincloth and moccasins. Women would wear an apron-like skirt at the waist and would often wear a cloak clasped over one shoulder, leaving one breast exposed. Dress varied according to social status and everyday dress was different from ceremonial dress.

Both men and women were tattooed on the face, wrists, and legs. The leg tattoos usually circumscribed the leg at the calf. Tattoo designs could be geometrical or floral.

With regard to hair styles, Virginia Algonquian men usually shaved the right side of the head to keep their hair from getting tangled in the bow string. Married women would cut their hair below their ears while girls would shave the front and sides of their heads and wear the remaining strands of their hair in long braids.

One of the characteristics of the social organization of the Virginia Algonquians was social stratification based on the accumulation of wealth. While status and wealth could be acquired by everyone through war deeds and individual economic capacities, the chiefs and their advisers favored social stability  and thus restricted mobility in a number of ways. For example, they required tributes amounting to great parts of the economic yields to be paid to the chiefs for the support of their families and the priests. In addition, the chief’s fields were worked by the common people. While trade provided the opportunity to acquire wealth, in practice the trading monopolies reserved profits for the ruling class.

At the time the English landed in Virginia, the largest Indian group was the Powhatan Confederacy (sometimes referred to as an Alliance rather than a Confederacy). The leader of this confederacy was a strong chief (which the English would later crown as a King). The leader of the Powhatan Confederacy also took the title Powhatan as his name. (This makes the historical record a little confusing for it is not always clear if writers are referring to the person or to the nation).

The early English writings about the Powhatan indicate that there were at least 35 tribes which were affiliated with the Powhatan Alliance. These tribes included the Powhatan, Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Apamatuk, Paspahegh, Arrohatoc, and Youghtanund. English maps show 161 towns, villages, and hamlets within the area controlled by the Powhatan.

The name “Powhatan” can best be translated as “People of the Dream-Vision”. The term “powa” indicates dream or vision. When used as a title, “Powhatan” means “person who dreams,” or “Principal Dreamer.”

While Powhatan had extensive authority, he ruled with the advice and support of his people. A council of chiefs and spiritual leaders provided him with advice. Powhatan had the power of life and death and there are several recorded examples of his having people put to death for various offenses.

It is important to realize that the government of the tribes within the alliance, and the Powhatan alliance itself was not a patriarchy in the English style. Women had a strong voice in governmental and political affairs. They were responsible for distributing all food, including the game which had been killed by men. In addition, they had a voice in selecting their leaders, some of whom were women.

The actual confederacy was formed of several tribes which had been conquered-militarily and/or economically-by the Powhatan. Under the Powhatan Confederacy, the leader of each of the conquered tribes – called a werowance – served at Powhatan’s sufferance. The position of the werowance was usually inherited matrilineally. The position would go first to the brothers of the deceased chief and then to the eldest sister and her sons.

It is not clear how loyal many of the “conquered” tribes were to the Powhatan. For example, The Chickahominy – a nation of about 15,000 people in 1607 – maintained independence from the Powhatan even though they were surrounded by Powhatan tribes on three sides. While the Powhatan sometimes hired Chickahominy warriors and the Chickahominy did pay some tribute to Powhatan, they never allowed Powhatan to place a werowance over them. They governed themselves with a council of eight elders.  

The Powhatan conducted wars of conquest in which the conquered tribes were incorporated into the Powhatan Confederacy. Strategies of surprise and ambush were more common than set battles between two fixed groups.

While the Powhatan could field an army of more than a thousand warriors in two or three days, large scale attacks were rare.  Powhatan archers could shoot accurately to about 40 yards and would send volleys to 120 yards. A typical archer could fire five arrows in the time it took a European soldier to load and fire a single musket shot.