The Full Wiki

Native American tribes in Virginia: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This page details the history and current status of Indian tribes in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

All of the Commonwealth of Virginia used to be Virginia Indian territory, an area estimated to have been occupied by indigenous peoples for more than 12,000 years.[1] Their population has been estimated to have been about 50,000. Today, tribal members of the eleven state-recognized tribes number more than 5,000. Collectively they own fewer than 2,000 acres of land. Only two of these tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, still retain reservation lands assigned by treaties signed with the English in the 1600s.[2]




16th century

A 1585 painting of a Chesapeake Bay warrior by John White

Documentation suggests that Spanish explorers entered what is now Virginia in two separate places decades before the English founded Jamestown. They had charted the eastern Atlantic coastline north of Florida by 1525. In 1609, Ecija, seeking to deny the English claim, asserted that Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón's failed colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, which lasted only the three months of winter 1526-27, had been near Jamestown, but modern scholars place this effort, the first European colony within the US, in Georgia.

In 1542, Hernando De Soto first encountered the Chisca who then lived in Southwestern Virginia; in 1568 the conquistador Juan Pardo, from a base at Joara, sent a detachment under Herman Moyano that destroyed the Chisca village at Saltville.

Meanwhile, as early as 1559-60, Spanish had explored inside the Chesapeake, naming the region Ajacan, and captured a native, possibly from the Paspahegh or Kiskiack tribe, whom they named Don Luis.[3] About ten years later, Don Luis returned with missionaries to establish the short-lived Ajacàn Mission.[4]

The English made a failed attempt to settle the Roanoke Colony in 1585-1587. Although the site is located in present-day North Carolina, the English considered it part of the Virginia territory. They collected much ethnological information about the local Croatan tribe, as well as related coastal tribes extending as far north as the Chesapeake (see picture).

Little can be gleaned about native movements in Virginia before the historical record opens. According to William Strachey, Chief Powhatan had slain the weroance at Kecoughtan in 1597, appointing his own young son Pochins as successor there, while resettling some of the tribe at the Piankatank River. (Powhatan annihilated the inhabitants at Piankatank in 1608.)

John Lederer in 1670 reported a Monacan legend, that when their tribe had settled in Virginia some 400 years previously "by an oracle", they had found the "Tacci" and taught them to plant maize, for they then knew only fishing and hunting. Another legend relates that the Doeg had once lived in modern King George County, VA, but about 50 years before Jamestown (ca. 1557) had split into three sections, with one part moving to Caroline County, one part moving to Prince William, and a third part remaining in King George.[5]

Estimated linguistic divisions ca. AD 1565

17th century

In 1607, when the English made their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, the area of the current state was occupied by several tribes of Algonquian, Siouan, and Iroquoian linguistic stock. Several of the Algonquian tribes were associated with the politically powerful Powhatan Confederacy (alternately Powhatan Chiefdom), whose homeland occupied much of the area east of the fall line. It spanned 100 by 100 miles, and covered most of the tidewater Virginia area and parts of the Eastern Shore, an area they called Tsenacommacah. Each of the more than 30 tribes of this Confederacy had its own name and chief (weroance or werowance, female weroansqua).[1] All paid tribute to a paramount chief (mamanatowick) Powhatan, whose personal name was Wahunsenecawh. Succession in the tribe was matrilineal — passed through the mother's side.[6][7]

Below the fall line, other related Algonquian groups who were not tributary to Powhatan included the Chickahominy, the Doeg in Northern Virginia, and the Accomac (later Gingaskin) of the Eastern Shore. The Patawomeck were fringe members of the Confederacy.

The Piedmont and area above the fall line were occupied by Siouan groups, such as the Monacan and Manahoac; Iroquoian peoples of the Cheroenhaka and Meherrin lived in what is now Southside Virginia. The region beyond the Blue Ridge (including West Virginia) was considered part of the sacred hunting grounds. Like much of the Ohio Valley, it had been depopulated by the Five Nations during the later Beaver Wars (1670-1700); its previous occupants are known from French Jesuit maps to have included the Siouan "Oniasunt" (Nahyssan) and "Totero" (Tutelo, the former name of Big Sandy River).

When the English first established the Virginia Colony, the Powhatan tribes had a combined population of about 15,000. Relations between the two peoples were not always friendly. After Captain John Smith was captured in the winter of 1607 and met with Chief Powhatan, relations were fairly good. Powhatan sent food to the English, and was instrumental in helping the newcomers survive. By the time Smith left Virginia in the fall of 1609, due to a gunpowder accident, relations between the two peoples had begun to sour. Their competition for land and resources led to the First Anglo-Powhatan War.

In 1613 Captain Samuel Argall learned that Powhatan's "favorite" daughter, Pocahontas, was visiting the Patawomeck. He kidnapped her to force Powhatan to return English prisoners and stolen weapons. Negotiations between the two peoples began. It was not until after Pocahontas converted to Christianity and married Englishman John Rolfe in 1614 that peace was reached between the two peoples. The peace continued until after Pocahontas died in England in 1617 and her father in 1618.[8]

After Powhatan's death the chiefdom passed to his brother Opitchapan. His succession was brief and the chiefdom was then passed to Opechancanough. It was Opecancanough who, on March 22, 1622, planned a coordinated attack on the English settlements. He wanted to punish English encroachments on Indian lands and hoped to run them off. Out of a population of about 1,200, his warriors killed about 350-400 settlers during the attack, known as the Indian massacre of 1622‎. Jamestown was spared because Chanco, an Indian boy living with the English, warned the English about the impending attack. The English retaliated. Conflicts between the peoples continued for the next 10 years, until a tenuous peace was reached.[9]

In 1644, Opechancanough planned a second attack to turn the English out. Their population had reached about 8,000. His warriors again killed about 350-400 settlers in the attack. It led to the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. In 1646, Opechancanough was captured by the English and a guard — against orders — shot him in the back and killed him. His death began the death of the Powhatan Confederacy. This was cemented in the signing of the first treaty between Opechancanough's successor, Necotowance, and the English in October 1646.[9]

Lines show legal treaty frontiers between Virginia Colony and Indian Nations in various years. Red: Treaty of 1646. Green: Treaty of Albany (1684). Blue: Treaty of Albany (1722). Orange: Proclamation of 1763. Black: Treaty of Camp Charlotte (1774). Area west of this line in present-day Southwest VA was ceded by the Cherokee in 1775.

The 1646 treaty delineated a racial frontier between Indian and English settlements, with members of each group forbidden to cross to the other side except by special pass obtained at one of the newly-erected border forts. The extent of the Virginia Colony open to patent by English colonists was defined as: All the land between the Blackwater and York rivers, and up to the navigable point of each of the major rivers - which were connected by a straight line running directly from modern Franklin on the Blackwater, northwesterly to the Appomattoc village beside Fort Henry, and continuing in the same direction to the Monocan village above the falls of the James, where Fort Charles was built, then turning sharp right, to Fort Royal on the York (Pamunkey) river. Necotowance thus ceded the English vast tracts of still-uncolonized land, much of it between the James and Blackwater. Yearly tribute payment, made to the English, of fish and game was also set up by the treaty as well as reservation lands.

All Indians were at first required to display a badge made of striped cloth while in white territory, or they could be murdered on the spot. In 1662, this law was changed to require them to display a copper badge, or else be subject to arrest.

In 1677, following Bacon's Rebellion, the Treaty of Middle Plantation was signed, this time by even more of the Virginia tribes. The treaty reinforced the yearly tribute payments, and a 1680 annexe added the Siouan and Iroquioan tribes of Virginia to the roster of Tributary Indians. It also allowed for more reservation lands to be set up, and was an acknowledgement that the Virginia Indian leaders were subjects of the King of England. [10]

Meanwhile, around the year 1670, Seneca warriors from New York conquered the territory of the Manahoac of Northern Piedmont, making the Virginia Colony de facto neighbours of the Iroquois Five Nations; although the Iroquois never settled this area, they did use it for hunting and marauding. The first treaties conducted at Albany between the two powers in 1674 and 1684 formally recognized the Iroquois claim to Virginia above the Fall Line, which they had conquered from the Siouans.

In 1693 the College of William and Mary officially opened its doors. One of the goals of the college was to educate Virginia Indian boys. Funding from a farm named "Brafferton," in England, were sent to the school in 1691 for this purpose. The funds paid for living expenses, classroom space, and a teacher's pay. Only those tribes who were still under treaty could attend, and at first none of these tribes would send their children. By 1711, Governor Spotswood offered to remit the tribes' yearly tribute payments if they would send their boys to the school. The idea worked and that year twenty boys were sent to the school. As the years passed the number of Brafferton students decreased. By late in the 18th century the Brafferton Fund was diverted elsewhere. The College was then closed to non-whites until 1964. [7]

18th century

Approximate linguistic divisions ca. AD 1700. Powhatan, Tutelo and Nottoway-Meherrin were tributary to English; Shawnees tributary to Seneca at this time.

From among the early Crown Governors of Virginia, Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood had one of the most cohesive policies toward Native Americans during his term (1710-1722), and one that was relatively humane; he envisioned having Forts built along the frontier, which Tributary Nations would occupy, acting as as buffers and go-betweens for trade with the tribes farther afield, while receiving Christian instruction and civilization. A government monopoly on the thriving trade with the whites would be held by the Virginia Indian Company. The first such project, Fort Christanna, was a success in that the Tutelo and Saponi tribes happily took up residence, however private traders, resentful of losing their lucrative share, lobbied for change, leading to its break-up and privatization by 1718.

Spotswood then turned to making peace with his Iroquois neighbours, brilliantly winning a concession from them of all the land they had conquered as far as the Blue Ridge and south of the Potomac. This clause was to be a bone of contention decades later, as it seemed to make the Blue Ridge the new demarcation between the Virginia Colony and Iroquois land, while in fact it technically stated that this mountain range was the border between the Iroquois and the Virginia Colony's Tributary Indians - meaning that in the white colonists' eyes, they could still cross them with impunity. This dispute. which first flared in 1736 as Europeans began to settle the Shenandoah Valley, came to a head in 1743 and was finally resolved the next year by the Treaty of Lancaster.

Even following this treaty, some dispute remained as to whether the Iroquois had ceded only the Shenandoah Valley, or all their claims south of the Ohio. Moreover, much of this land beyond the Alleghenies was also still disputed by the Shawnee and Cherokee nations. The Iroquois recognised the English right to settle south of the Ohio at Logstown in 1752. The Shawnee and Cherokee claims remained, however, and the Proclamation of 1763 confirmed all land beyond the Alleghenies as Indian Territory.

The Proclamation Line was considered adjusted in 1768 when the Iroquois Six Nations formally sold the British all their claim west of the Alleghenies, and south of the Ohio by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Nonetheless, this region (which included the modern states of Kentucky, and West Virginia, as well as southwestern Virginia) was then still populated by the other tribes, as well as Lenape, Mingoes and others, who were not party to the sale. The resulting conflict led to Dunmore's War (1774). By the Treaty of Camp Charlotte concluding this conflict, the Shawnee and Mingo relinquished their claim south of the Ohio, and the Cherokee sold Richard Henderson a portion of their land encompassing extreme southwest Virginia in 1775 as part of the Transylvania purchase.[11] This sale was not recognized by the royal colonial government, nor by renegade Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe; however as one of the acts of the Revolution, settlers soon began pouring into Kentucky. In 1776, the Shawnee joined Dragging Canoe's faction in again declaring war on the "Long Knives" (Virginians); he was raiding Abingdon, Virginia on the Holston on July 22, 1776 (see Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794)).

Throughout the 1700s several tribes lost their reservation lands. Shortly after 1700 the Rappahannock tribe lost its reservation; the Chickahominy tribe lost theirs in 1718, and the Nansemond tribe sold theirs in 1792. After losing their reservations these tribes faded from public view. By the 1790s, most of the surviving Powhatan tribes had converted to Christianity[12], and spoke only English.[6]

19th century

The 1800s saw pressure from whites who wanted to push the Virginia Indians off of the remaining reservations and end their status as tribes. By 1850, one of the reservations was sold to the whites and another reservation was officially divided by 1878, although many families held onto their lands into the 20th century. The only two tribes to resist the pressure and hold onto their reservations were the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes. These two tribes still maintain their reservations today.[6]

After the Civil War, the reservation tribes began to reclaim their cultural identities and to improve their image in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The main message they wanted to get across was that Powhatan Indian descendants were still alive and well and proud of their heritage.[6]

20th century

In the early 1900s, many Virginia Indians began to reorganize into official tribes. They were opposed by Walter Ashby Plecker.[6] Plecker was a white supremacist and a follower of the eugenics movement. He wanted to keep the white "master race" "pure." He saw things in black and white, and believed there were no Virginia Indians left, since, according to his terms, Indians of mixed race could not qualify. He wanted to ensure that blacks were not passing as Virginia Indians, in his terms. As the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Virginia from 1912 to 1946, he directed local offices to use only the designations of "white" or "colored" on birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, voter registration forms, etc. He further directed them to evaluate some specific families, saying he believed they were black and trying to pass as Indian. He did not want the term "Indian" used at all.[13]

In 1924, the Racial Integrity Act was passed in Virginia. Among other provisions, it prohibited marriage between whites and non-whites. Plecker was a strong proponent for this Act. Once it was passed, he insisted on the use of terms only "white" and "colored" in official records. This law also defined a white person as someone who had no trace of black blood, rather than looser terms as had prevailed during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, when a person could qualify as white who had one-quarter African or Indian ancestry. Many Virginia Indians left the state during Plecker's time. Others tried to fade into the background until the storm passed. Plecker's "paper genocide" began to end after he retired in 1946.[13]

The Racial Integrity Act was not repealed until 1967, after the ruling of the US Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which overturned anti-miscegenation laws everywhere. In the ruling the court stated: "The freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race lies with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."[14] Virginia Indians could now marry whoever they wanted and, more importantly, get their birth certificates changed, for a fee. After 1997, when Delegate Harvey Morgan's bill HB2889 passed, any Virginia Indian born in Virginia could have their records changed for free.[10]


There was variation between language groups as to how houses were constructed and how they looked. The Monacan, who spoke Siouan, created dome-shaped structures of bark and reed mats.[15]

The Powhatan tribes, who spoke Algonquian, lived in houses they called yihakans/yehakins and which the English described as "longhouses". They were structures made from bent saplings lashed together at the top to make a barrel shape. The saplings were covered with woven mats or bark. The 17th century historian William Strachey thought since bark was harder to acquire, families of higher status must own bark-covered houses. In summer, when the heat and humidity increased, the people could roll up or remove the mat walls for better air circulation.[16]

Inside a Powhatan house,- bedsteads were built along both walls. They were made of posts put in the ground, about a foot high or more, with small poles attached. The framework was about 4-feet wide, which was covered with reeds. One or more mats was placed on top for bedding, with more mats or skins for blankets. A rolled mat served as a pillow. During the day, the bedding was rolled up and stored so the space could be used for other purposes.[16]

Virginia Indians today

As of 2009, there are only eight tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia related to the Powhatan paramountcy. The state also recognizes the Monacan Nation, never part of the paramountcy. Several other Virginia Indian and Powhatan-descended tribes still live in Virginia and other locations. Several located in Virginia that do not have state recognition are seeking it.[17]

The population of Powhatan Indians today is estimated to be about 8,500-9,500, though only about 3,000-3,500 are tribal members; the Monacan Nation's tribal membership is about 2,000. [2][18] Being a tribal member may demand commitment. Generally, members must pay dues, as well as attend tribal meetings (which are usually monthly in the "home" areas); serve as tribal officers when asked (unpaid); help to put on tribal events; belong to the tribal church if they are able; teach their children their people's history and learn traditional crafts; represent the tribe at the Virginia Council on Indians, the United Indians of Virginia, and/or at other tribes' powwows (unpaid); answer questions they may be asked; speak at engagements for civic or school groups; and live in a good way so as to best represent their tribe and Indian people in general.[7]

Virginia Indians are proud of their heritage and history, and want to tell their side of the story. They are still here. In fact, two of the state-recognized tribes, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, maintain their reservations from the 1600s treaties. These two tribes continue to make their yearly tribute payment to the Virginia governor, as stipulated by the 1646 and 1677 treaties. Every year around Thanksgiving they hold a ceremony to pay the annual tribute of game, usually a deer, and pottery or a "peace pipe."[10]

Today some Virginia Indians feel like they live in two worlds. During the week they work regular jobs with everyone else, and on weekends they are involved in working for and with their individual tribes. When they are doing tribal work, it could mean wearing regalia and attending pow wows, heritage festivals, or tribal homecomings. For such individuals, their lives are about the balance between the Indian world and the outside world.[10]

Tribes recognized today

The following tribes have been recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

  • Upper Mattaponi Tribe [8]

Federal recognition

There have been various bills before Congress with the goal of acquiring federal recognition for six Virginia Tribes. Sponsors of such Federal recognition bills have been Senator George Allen, R-Va and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. These bills would grant federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Nansemond Tribes, and Monacan Indian Nation.

On May 8, 2007, the US House of Representatives passed a bill extending federal recognition to the six tribes mentioned above. It has not been passed by the Senate. The bill died in the Senate.

On March 9, 2009 the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009 was sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Hearings for the bill were heard before the committee on March 18, 2009 and on April 22, 2009 the committee referred the bill to the US House of Representatives. On June 3, 2009 the House approved the bill and the following day it was introduced in the Senate where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs, which approved the bill on October 22[22]. On December 23, 2009 the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under general orders. This is the furthest the bill has gotten in the Congressional process.[23][24]

The two reservation tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, are not part of the federal recognition bill. They are trying to get federal recognition through applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under current regulation.[2]

Unofficial and former tribes


  1. ^ a b Karenne Wood, ed., The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail, Charlottesville, VA: Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c Kimberlain, Joanne. “We’re Still Here”, The Virginian-Pilot. June 7-9 2009: Print
  3. ^ Rountree, Helen C. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Changed by Jamestown. Charlottesvile: University of Virginia Press, 2005.
  4. ^ Lewis, Clifford M. and Albert J. Loomie. The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1570-1572, 1953.
  5. ^ T.E. Campbell, 1954, Colonial Caroline, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b c d e Egloff, Keith and Deborah Woodward. First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1992.
  7. ^ a b c Rountree, Helen C. and E. Randolph Turner III. Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.
  8. ^ Gleach, Frederic W. Powhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
  9. ^ a b Cotton, Lee. "Powhatan Indian Lifeways" Colonial National Historical Park-Historic Jamestowne.
  10. ^ a b c d Waugaman, Sandra F. and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Ph.D. We're Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories. Richmond: Palari Publishing, 2006 (revised edition).
  11. ^ Cherokee Land Cessions
  12. ^ Helen Rountree, 1990, Pocahontas's People, p. 175 ff.
  13. ^ a b Fiske, Warren. “The Black-and-White World of Walter Ashby Plecker”, The Virginian-Pilot, 18 Aug 2004.
  14. ^ “U.S. Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. (1967).” FindLaw.” 1994-99. Accessed 3 February 2000.
  15. ^ "Monacan Nation History" Monacan Nation
  16. ^ a b Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, 1989.
  17. ^ VCI - Virginia Tribes
  18. ^ Patawomeck Indians of Virginia, Patawomeck Indians of Virginia
  19. ^ HJ 150 Patawomeck Indian Tribe; General Assembly to extend state recognition & representation on VCI.
  20. ^ SJ 12 Nottoway Indian Tribe; extending state recognition thereto and grants representation on VCI.
  21. ^ SJ 127 Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe; extending state recognition thereto, representation on VCI.
  22. ^ Moran Hails Senate Leadership in VA Indian Struggle
  23. ^ "H.R. 1385: Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009",
  24. ^ "S. 1178: Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009",

Suggested reading

  • Before and After Jamestown: Virginia's Powhatans and Their Predecessors by Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III.
  • First People: The Early Indians of Virginia by Keith Egloff and Deborah Woodward.
  • Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians Through Four Centuries by Helen C. Rountree.
  • Powhatan Foreign Relations: 1500-1722 edited by Helen C. Rountree.
  • Powhtan Indian Lifeways: Their Traditional Culture by Helen C. Rountree.
  • Powhtan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures by Frederic W. Gleach.
  • Settling with the Indians: The Meeting of the English and the Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640 by Karen Ordahl Kupperman.
  • The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail edited by Karenne Wood.
  • We're Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories by Sandra F. Waugaman and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Ph.D.
  • The Black and White World of Walter Ashby Plecker by Warren Fiske. The Virginian Pilot. online:
  • Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America by Dr. Daniel K. Richter.
  • We're Still Here by Joanne Kimberlain. The Virginian Pilot. online

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address