Virginia had been occupied by humans for roughly 15,000 years before the first European explorers arrived, according to the archeological evidence. When Europeans first arrived in this region in the early 17th century, they found a flourishing population of people who belonged to one of three main language groups. Most of the coastal plain was inhabited by an Algonquian empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The Algonquian-speaking tribes in Virginia are often treated as if they were all part of Powhatan’s “empire.” Between the time the Spanish arrived in 1570 and the English came to stay in 1607, Powhatan established his empire over tribes east of the Fall Line. He had inherited control (from his mother rather than his father, in accord with his cultural tradition) of just four tribes, but conquered another 30 and exerted control over nearly all Algonquian-speaking Native Americans in Virginia when the Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant sailed between the capes at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Those Algonquian-speaking tribes were all located east of the Fall Line. Powhatan ruled between the Falls of the James (today the site of Richmond) and the Atlantic Ocean. Powhatan dominated those on the Eastern Shore, which could be reached only by canoe until the Europeans brought a new technology – sailing ships. Powhatan’s power extended south to the Blackwater River and today’s Virginia Beach, and north to Potomac and Aquia Creeks. North of the Rappahannock, his control was weak. The Potomack tribe, who lived at the mouth of Aquia Creek, actually sold Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas to the English. She had been in the area ensuring the corn tax would be paid to her father, but ended up instead as a captive (sold for a copper kettle). Pocahontas is said to have later saved the life of Captain John Smith. Further north, Powhatan claimed no power. Instead, he tried to block the English from dealing with those tribes outside his control. The Algonquian-speaking Taux (Doeg’s) were allied to Piscataway and other Maryland tribes, and the capital of their leader or “tyac” was located in Maryland. The southwestern coastal plain was occupied by Iroquoians, the Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Piedmont was home to two Siouan confederacies, the Monacan and the Mannahoac.
VIRGINIA INDIAN TRIBES
FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES IN VIRGINIA
Federal list last updated 5/16
Pamunkey Indian Tribe a.k.a. Pamunkey Nation
STATE RECOGNIZED TRIBES(Not recognized by the Federal Governemnt)
Chickahominy Indian Tribe.Letter of Intent to Petition 03/19/1996. State recognized 1983
Chickahominy Indians, Eastern Division (aka Eastern Chickahominy Indian Tribe). Letter of Intent to Petition 9/6/2001. State recognized, 1983.
Mattaponi Tribe (aka Mattaponi Indian Reservation). Letter of Intent to Petition 04/04/1995. State recognized 1983. The Mattaponi and Pamunkey have reservations based in colonial-era treaties ratified by the Commonwealth in 1658. Pamunkey Tribe’s attorney told Congress in 1991 that the tribes state reservation originated in a treaty with the crown in the 1600s and has been occupied by Pamunkey since that time under strict requirements and following the treaty obligation to provide to the Crown a deer every year, and they’ve done that (replacing Crown with Governor of Commonwealth since Viginia became a Commonwealth)
Monacan Indian Nation (formerly Monacan Indian Tribe of Virginia). Letter of Intent to Petition 07/11/1995. State recognized 1989.
Nansemond Indian Tribal Association. Letter of Intent to Petition 9/20/2001.State recognized 1985.
Nottoway of Virginia
Pamunkey Indian Tribe
Rappahannock Indian Tribe (I) (formerly United Rappahannock Tribe). Letter of Intent to Petition 11/16/1979. State recognized 1983; in Indian Neck, King & Queen County. Shares a name with an unrecognized tribe Rappahannock Indian Tribe (II).
The Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe (formerly Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribal Association). Letter of Intent to Petition 11/26/1979. State recognized 1983.
UNRECOGNIZED / PETITIONING TRIBES
Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 07/08/1994
Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 12/30/2002
Rappahannock Indian Tribe (II). Letter of Intent to Petition 1/31/2001. Shares a name with a State recognized tribe Rappahannock Indian Tribe (I).
United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia. Letter of Intent to Petition 08/03/2000.
Wicocomico Indian Nation (aka Historic Wicocomico Indian Nation of Northumberland County, Virginia). Letter of Intent to Petition 09/15/2000
FIRST CONTACT TO PRESENT
Once the English arrived and began to settle in the area, the native people found themselves in competition for land for hunting and farming. They also were exposed to European diseases for the first time, and many died of diseases like smallpox, to which they had no immunity. While there was occasional fighting over the land, the increasing number of English settlers and African slaves, and the dwindling population of natives effectively pushed native groups into smaller and smaller settlements where they could barely farm enough land to stay alive. In the 1800s, the prevailing white culture in Virginia wanted to push the Indians off their homelands. Pressure was brought to remove each of the four remaining reservations and end the people’s legal status as tribes. This policy meant dividing, with the Indians’ consent, all of a reservation among each of its members and removing all state services to the tribe. The Gingaskin Reservation on the Eastern Shore was legally subdivided in 1813. Unable to withstand legal pressure and being very poor, the people sold their land for profit. By 1850, all of the original Gingaskin Reservation was in white hands. The last parcel of the Nottoway Reservation was divided in 1878, although many families held onto their land into the 20th century. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi, the last two reservations, withstood attempts at termination. Though the people were poor, they maintained their tribal structure and treaties with the Commonwealth. Today, their reservations are two of the oldest in the nation.
PRE-CONTACT VIRGINIA TRIBES
PRE-HISTORIC CULTURES IN VIRGINIA
15,000–8,000 B.C. – Paleoindians. Early Hunters.
8,000–6,000 B.C. – Early Archaic. Hunters.
6,000–2,500 B.C. – Middle Archaic. Dispersed Foragers.
2,500–1,200 B.C. – Late Archaic. Sedentary Foragers.
1,200–500 B.C. – Early Woodland. Sedentary Foragers
500 B.C.–A.D. 900 – Middle Woodland. Sedentary Foragers
900–1600 A.D. – Late Woodland. Farmers.
The Clovis culture is noted by the lance-shaped fluted point. Clovis points are found across the continent, and an especially large number are found in Virginia. Other stone tools found with the Clovis point include scrapers, gravers, perforators, wedges, and knives. Evidence in Virginia suggests that these tools were used to spear game, cut up meat, scrape and cut hides, and split and carve bone of deer, bison, and rabbit. Also caribou, elk, moose, and possibly mastodon may have been hunted. Glaciers made for long, hard winters and short, cool summers. In the Appalachian region, the mountain slopes were bare and tundra-like. People in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Virginia lived among grasslands, open forests of conifers, such as pine, fir, spruce, and hemlock, and occasional islands of deciduous trees. Slightly warmer weather south of present-day Richmond encouraged the growth of more deciduous trees such as birch, beech, and oak. The first people lived in groups which anthropologists today call bands, and camped along streams that flowed through the tundra-like grasslands and the open spruce, pine, and fir forests that covered Virginia at that time. A band was like an extended family. Due to the harsh climate, each band moved seasonally within a set territory to hunt and forage.
Archaic, meaning old, signals a series of new adaptations by the early people that occurred between 8,000 and 1,200 B.C. As the cold, moist climate of the Pleistocene Age changed to a warmer, drier one, the warming winds melted the glaciers to the north and warmed the ocean water. The sea level rose, spreading water across the Coastal Plain of Virginia and creating the Chesapeake Bay. Thus, the Early Archaic population grew, nurtured by a more inviting environment. Families lived in larger bands and remained mobile, but within a more limited fertile area.
By the Middle Archaic period, the Indians of Virginia had adjusted well to the Eastern woodland. They became masters of the deciduous forest of oak, hickory, and chestnut. Their knowledge of how best to use the physical setting altered with the changing environment and shifting seasons of the year, and gradually became more sophisticated. The people of the Eastern forest started to produce in large quantities chipped stone axes around 4,000 B.C. The axes were made from tough resilient stone, such as basalt and quartzite. With large axes, the Middle Archaic people could more easily cut wood to build houses and make fires. The resulting forest clearings altered the environment in a radical way. Clearings encouraged the growth of plants and trees that were beneficial to the people, such as berry bushes and fruit and nut trees. Deer, bear, turkey, and other animals came to the clearing to browse on the tender leaves of low-lying shrubs and to eat berries and nuts.
Archaeologists believe that between 3,000 and 1,000 years ago, people first began to settle into villages. It was also about this time that people first began to clear sections of land by burning so that edible plants would continue to grow in those areas each year. We would consider this the earliest examples of farming. For example, we know these people ate sunflowers, ragweed, sumpweed, squash, gourds, and greens. They hunted deer, black bear, turkey, squirrel, rabbits, beaver, otter, muskrat and water birds. Particularly in the Coastal Plain Region of Virginia, the people fished for shad, herring, rockfish, and sturgeon. Oysters, clams, crabs and turtles were plentiful.
Archaeologists have found evidence that these people used clay to make pottery and then traded that pottery with other people in nearby areas. Around 800 years ago, native people began to use bow and arrow to hunt. We also know that they took care in burying their dead in large mounds, and left them with items of importance, probably because they believed these people would need the items in the afterworld. Villages became more complex; house building more substantial. In typical villages, various sizes of house were placed in rows around a plaza with perhaps a council house or temple elevated on a nearby mound. A palisade may have surrounded the entire village.
Genealogy:Sources of records on US Indian tribes Virginia Native American Boarding Schools