Virginia Indian Tribes


When Jamestown was founded, the Chickahominy Tribe lived in established villages along the Chickahominy River, from the mouth of the river near Jamestown to the middle of the current county of New Kent. Because of their proximity to Jamestown, the Chickahominy people had early contact with the English settlers, helping the settlers survive during their first few winters.


The Mattaponi Indian Reservation which stretches along he borders of the Mattaponi River in King William County, dates back to 1658.  As one of the oldest reservations in the country, the Tribe traces its history to the paramount chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, who ruled most of Tidewater Virginia when Europeans arrived in 1607.


The Monacan Indian Nation culture dates back more than 10, 000 years and the original territory of the Tribe comprised roughly half of the state of Virginia, including most of the Piedmont region.  The Monacan Nation is one of the oldest groups of indigenous people still existing in their ancestral homeland, and the only group of Eastern Siouans in Virginia.


At the time of their earliest English contact in Virginia, the Nansemond tribe lived in several villages along the Nansemond River centered near Chuckatuck, in the current city of Suffolk.  The arriving English raided the Nansemond villages in 1608, burning their houses and destroying their conoes to force them to give up their corn, thus beginning the open hostilities between the two communities.  As increasing numbers of Europeans poured into the Nansemond River area, tribal members had to relocate their tribal lands and reservation on several different occasions, losing their last known reservation land in 1792.


The Pamunkey Tribe dates back ten to twelve thousand years.  Two major treaties with the King of England (in 1646 and 1677) established the Articles of Peace and a land base for the Tribe, later referred to as a reservation.  Listed as one of the six or more districts inherited by Chief Powhatan, evidence indicates that the Pamunkey district itself was the center among those core districts.  In 1607, Powhatan moved east to Werowocomoco in an effort to aid in the consolidation of his rapidly expanding chiefdom.


The Rappahannocks’ first documented encounter with the English occurred in 1608 when Samuel Mace sailed into the Rappahannock River, killing the Chief and taking men back to England. In the summer of 1608 John Smith mapped fourteen Rappahannock villages on the north side of the river. English settlement in the Rappahannock River valley began in the 1640’s. After Bacon’s rebellion, the Rappahannock consolidated at one village and in November 1682, the Virginia Council laid out 3,474 acres in Indian Neck, where their descendents remain today.


For centuries, the ancestors of the Upper Mattaponi People have lived in villages along waterways of Virginia, the land known as Tsenacomocco. Like neighboring tribes, they spoke the Angonquian language and when the British came in 1607 they were prosperous people under Chief Powhatan. John Smith’s map of 1612 indicates the present location of the Upper Mattaponi corresponds correctly with a village marked on his map as Passaunkack.

Powhatan and Pocahontas

Powhatan was the paramount chief of the Tidewater region when the English arrived at Jamestown in 1607 thus, he was never referred to as chief Powhatan but rather as Powhatan. His tributaries (tribes that paid tribute to him) did not constitute a “confederacy” or “nation” but were a paramount chiefdom. These tribes were not sub-tribes but individual nations.

Virginia Algonquian cultures were matrilineal. The status of the mother, not the father, determined the child’s status. The English knew Powhatan’s high status wives by name, but the mother of Pocahontas was never identified. Thus Pocahontas, Powhatan’s daughter, should not be referred to as a “princess”. Also, her age is uncertain as well as many events of her life. Opinions vary widely on the alleged “rescue” incident at Werowocomoco in 1607. Some accept the event as Smith described it in his 1624 writings even though it was not mentioned in his earlier accounts. Others believe the incident occurred but that it was an “adoption” ritual that Smith misunderstood. Still others believe it never happened.

Condensed from information provided by the Virginia Council on Indians