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The Americas

North American Native Tribes

 

 

 

Arrohattec (Powhatan Confederacy) (North American Tribes)

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Generally speaking, the European settlers in North America coined the phrase 'Indian' or 'Red Indian' to describe the North American tribes they found while they were settling what is now the USA. To the north of this vast collection of varying regions and climates were the native settlements of what is now Canada, while to the south were the various peoples of modern Mexico, most especially the Aztecs. The Arrohattec were located on the eastern seaboard in what is now the states of Delaware and Maryland (eastern section). They were neighboured by the Powhatan (proper) to the north, the Chickahominy to the east, the Weanoc and Appamatuck to the south, and the Mattawomen and Mattapeake to the west, bordering the 320 kilometre-long expanse of Chesapeake Bay.

MapFor much of its recorded existence the tribe was firmly a constituent part of the Powhatan confederacy, which was formed in the second half of the sixteenth century. Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh (Wahunsonacock), otherwise known as Powhatan, took over the then-small Powhatan confederacy after his father's death. He quickly expanded the confederacy, creating a union rather than focusing merely on subjugating the other regional tribes. At its height the confederacy consisted of at least thirty-two tribes. The Arrohattec name is shown in a variety of ways in original records, including Arrohattoc, Arrohattock (one 't' or two), Arrohateck, or Arrowhatock. The tribe formerly lived along the James River, nineteen kilometres (twelve miles) below the falls at Richmond. Their main settlement was located at the site of Henrico, Virginia. (More information about the Powhatan confederacy is available via the compendium link, right.)

The sub-rulers or sub-kings of the Powhatan confederacy of the Virginia coast and Chesapeake Bay region were known as weroances (the plural form, or weroance, singular), an Algonquian word meaning leader or commander. Operating under the authority of a paramount chief called Powhatan, a weroansqua was the female equivalent. Spellings of both titles vary greatly thanks to the lack of standardised spelling of the time. Each tribe of the Powhatan confederacy was led by its own weroance, and like any titled lord in Europe's nobility he would carry the tribe's name as his title. Pochins, weroance of the Kecoughtan, would be referred to as Weroance Kecoughtan, or simply 'Kecoughtan'. Most foreign writers who came across a weroance did so only on a special occasion, because a foreigner's presence was special, as would be any notable visitor from outside the tribe. However, John Smith noted that there were few differences between weroances and their subjects.

(Information by Mick Baker, from primary sources by John Smith (1607), William Strachey (1616), The Virginia Census of 1669, and Robert Beverly (1705) with additional information from James Mooney (1907), from Helen C Rountree (information which forms the basis of the tribal locations map), from Everyday Life of the North American Indian, Jon Manchip White (1979), from The Encyclopaedia of North American Indian Tribes, Bill Yenne (1986), from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), from Colonial America to 1763 (Almanacs of American Life), Thomas L Purvis & Richard Balkin, from The Indian Tribes of North America, John R Swanton, and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial - A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, and Access Genealogy.)

c.1530s - 1550

The first chief of a new confederacy along the eastern seaboard is driven north to the Virginia area by Spanish colonists in Florida and surrounding regions. Once there, he takes over control of at least five other Indian tribes in Virginia. Upon his death his son, the young Chief Wahunsenacawh, inherits the duty of ruling over the six communities. He gradually expands his rule to cover more than thirty groups that includes a generous estimate of 15,000 people, although a more conservative calculation based on primary sources would indicate the total to be nearer 8,500.

c.1550 - 1607

By the end of the sixteenth century, Wahunsenacawh (more accurately known as Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh, and better known as Powhatan) is the paramount chieftain of the Powhatan confederacy, which includes most of the indigenous tribes in the Chesapeake Bay region. The tribes in this region are linked by a common language, Eastern Algonquian.

Map of the Powhatan confederacy AD 1600
The Powhatan confederacy (the pale orange area) was formed towards the end of the sixteenth century, and under its second paramount chief it rapidly expanded to cover territory which is now divided between the states of Delaware and Maryland (click on map to view full sized)

FeaturePowhatan is mamanatowick, the chief of chiefs, and he lives amongst the Pamunkey people, but his power and authority varies from one part of the confederacy to another. Peoples who are distant from his centre at Werowocomoco on the north bank of the York River are more politically independent than those who are located within the core territory. The various tribes pay tribute to him, and he rules by the threat of force but also by marriage alliances and persuasion. Several sub-chiefs, or weroances, govern specific regions or tribes under his authority and in his name. Some of these, as might be expected in any ruling elite, are relatives of his, although inheritance in Powhatan society is matrilineal.

fl 1600s?

Ashuaquid

Weroance of the Arrohattec.

1607

The Arrohattec come into contact with John Smith and Christopher Newport when they are reconnoitring the area with representatives of the Virginia Company of London. Ashuaquid and his tribe offer the Englishmen a warm welcome and assisted them greatly. This type of welcome is further extended when the travellers explored further up the James River and meet Powhatan's son, Parahunt. The Arrohattec also aid the British Colonists when their fort is attacked by hostile Indians later in the year.

1609 - 1611

As time has progressed relations between the Arrohattec and the British Colonies have quickly worn thin. By 1609 the Arrohattec are reluctant to trade with the incomers. Their population dwindles and the tribe declines (probably due to imported disease, and an exceptionally dry spell of weather that lasts for seven years according to dendrochronological samples taken for the region, which causes food shortages). The last mention of the Arrohattec is in a 1610 report by William Strachey. By 1611, the native Henrico Town is a ghost town when Sir Thomas Dale attempts to use the land to establish the colonial settlement of Henricus, recorded as the 'Citie of Henricus'.