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The Americas

North American Native Tribes


Eastern Algonquins (North American Tribes)
Incorporating the Loeuaneu, Sawanoos, & Yoacomaco

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. In between was a vast mass of confederations, tribes, sub-tribes, and villages, all of which often bore more than one name, making their accurate cataloguing a nightmarish prospect.

CompendiumAlgonquian-speaking tribes themselves covered several vast areas of North America. For the sake of convenience these have been grouped into separate regions, each of which leads onto many subsidiary pages which cover local confederations or individual tribes. The 'Eastern Algonquins' covers those speakers of the language who resided close to the Atlantic coastline, principally in Maryland and Virginia, while perhaps the biggest of the regional groups, the Delaware (Lenni-Lenape) bordered this region to the north, extending as far as the edges of Connecticut. Despite the regional dominance of the Powhatan confederacy and what seems to have been a preceding 'empire' under Piscataway control, there were still many Algonquian-speaking tribes who were not subsumed by it, remaining largely independent. Other Algonquin regions include those of the Carolina Algonquins and Great Lakes Algonquins while, confusingly, there is also an Algonkin tribe (all spellings are variable - these forms have been selected for consistency). (More information about the Algonquin is available via the compendium link, right.)

As inferred above, and as usual in this particular area of study, there is more than one version of the word 'Algonquian'. Here, this version is used to describe the language itself and its speakers. Another version, Algonquin, is used to describe the people themselves, while a variant of the word was Algonkin (which, as mentioned, also denotes an individual tribe which inhabited the Ottawa River region to the west). The name Adirondack was just another way of referring to the actual Algonquin tribe which was located further to the west then the bulk of eastern Algonquins. As with many of the tribes of the Powhatan confederacy, these other, independent Algonquian-speaking tribes often had names which were synonymous with their local river or settlement.

FeatureOf the Algonquian-speaking tribes of east Virginia, close to the Powhatan, the Piscataway were one of the largest. Several Patuxent River settlements would seem to have been commanded by them. In fact, a story provided to the English in 1660 would seem to suggest that they were once the dominant tribe in the region. The other independent Algonquin tribes in this region included the Conoy, Patuxenet (or Patuxent), and Nanticoke (with their various sub-groups). The Conoy at least appear to have been Patawomeck who migrated away from the British Colonies in the seventeenth century, entering northern Virginia and then Pennsylvania where they were referred to as Conoy by the Iroquois.

A great many minor Algonquian-speaking tribes are mentioned in written records only once, or under multiple names. While the majority of these can be catalogued according to tribal group or confederation, two very obscure names remain stubbornly uncatalogued: the Loeuaneu and Sawanoos. In fact they are little more than inclusions on a list of names, with no details given. The probability is that they were both Unami groups, but absolutely no confirmation seems to exist so for now they remain unattached.

Another group, the Yoacomaco, appear to have been small but independent of any other groups. They were located in the south-eastern corner of Maryland, in St Mary's and Calvert counties on either side of the Patuxant River as it exits into Chesapeake Bay. Their main concentration was along the St Mary's River, which feeds into the Patuxent from the county of the same name. The tribe maintained its sovereignty while conducting trade with the Piscataway, the Powhatan confederacy, and European settlers. Whether through disease, tribal conflict, or colonial expansion, there is no further record of the Yoacomaco tribe after the late 1600s. However, a recreation of one of their tribal villages can be found today in St Mary's City.

(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 The Powhatan Chiefdom: 1606, Old Dominion University Model United Nations Society, 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 Do we know of any specific individuals from pre-Columbian United States?, and 1699 Encounter With Piscataway Indians Was a First (Washington Post), and Maryland Manual Online.)


FeatureAccording to the testimony of the Piscataway tribe as given in 1660, around the middle of the thirteenth century there comes a king from the eastern shore who rules over all of the natives who now inhabit the Algonquian-speaking lands of eastern Virginia, and also over the Patawomeck and Susquehannock (see accompanying feature for more detail).


By this stage the recognisable beginnings can be seen of the tribal system in the Americas, marking the transition from Early Cultures. One of the most notable highlights of this shift towards the familiar tribes of the Native Americans is the creation in this period of a constitution by the Iroquois confederacy.

Map of the Powhatan confederacy AD 1600
The Powhatan confederacy (the pale orange area) was formed of a large number of Algonquian-speaking tribes, but others (yellow) remained independent (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.1530s - 1550

FeatureThe first chief of a new Algonquian-speaking confederacy along the eastern seaboard is driven north to the Virginia area by Spanish Colonial settlers in Florida and surrounding regions. Once there, he takes over control of at least five other Indian tribes in Virginia to create the Powhatan confederacy of eastern Algonquian-speaking tribes.

One potential issue with the creation of the Powhatan confederacy is the speed with which it is formed. Could this take place largely by the first two Powhatans taking over the domination of many Algonquian-speaking tribes from the Piscataway emperor simply by showing greater strength and power? By the time the European colonists have arrived to document native politics, the 'emperor' has influence only over a few tribes on the northern edge of the Powhatan confederacy.

1585 - 1586

FeatureSir Walter Raleigh's cousin, Sir Richard Grenville, attempts to found an English colony on Roanoke Island when he lands more than a hundred men there in 1585. Algonquian-speaking tribes in the area keep an eye on the proceedings, including the Secotan, Dasamonquepeuc, Roanoke, and Pasquenoke. Grenville departs, promising to return the following Easter. By June 1586 the colonists have become impatient waiting for Grenville's return, and take ship with Sir Francis Drake who, by chance, has called in at Roanoke. Grenville arrives two weeks later with a further fifteen colonists. Leaving these fifteen on Roanoke, as a sort of 'advance party', Grenville again departs for England for reinforcements.

Roanoke Colony
The Roanoke Colony, located on the large island to the lower centre-left of the illustration, was founded in 1586, but by the following year it had failed

fl 1587


Algonquian weroance. Tribe uncertain. Deceived Gov White.

fl 1587


Algonquian weroance. Tribe? Wounded in English attack.


Governor John White returns to Roanoke on 22 July. The plan is to collect the fifteen original colonists from the previous year, and then make their way to Chesapeake, to the north, the intended site for the new colony. All that White's party find of the fifteen colonists are the bones of one man. White quickly makes contact with friendly natives led by Chief Manteo, who explains that the lost fifteen had been killed by hostile Secotan, Aquascogoc, and Dasamongueponke warriors. White leads a dawn attack on the Dasamongueponkes which goes disastrously wrong, with hitherto friendly Indians (probably Croatoan or Roanoke) being harmed instead. Henceforth relations with the local tribes steadily deteriorates.


After a good many delays, Sir Walter Raleigh manages to get Governor White aboard the Hopewell for a return to Roanoke in March. White arrives at Roanoke in August, only to discover that the colonists are not there. There are no signs of violence, and there are no dead bodies. On a tree at the entrance to the palisade is carved the word 'CROATOAN' - the name of an island some fifty miles to the south. None of the one hundred and seventeen men, women, and children who had been left on Roanoke in 1587 are ever seen again.


When Pocahontas of the Powhatan visits the Patawomeck on behalf of her father, she is taken hostage by the weroance, Japasaws. He has been helping the English in their efforts to evade Powhatan's intention of starving them into submission. Japasaws trades her to an English sea captain named Samuel Argall, in exchange for a copper kettle! This results in a truce in the First Anglo-Powhatan War and Pocahontas becomes a pawn in the politics of the day.

Pocahontas saves Captain John Smith
The attempted execution of Captain John Smith at the hands of Powhatan warriors (with Pocahontas saving his life) would appear to be a ritualised 'mock execution', performed in order to adopt Smith as a weroance - the English becoming, in Powhatan's eyes, yet another sub-tribe to be controlled and brought under his influence

1622 - 1624

The Jamestown Massacre devastates the Jamestown Settlement and the Citie of Henricus on Good Friday, 22 March 1622. Natives of the Powhatan confederacy launch a surprise attack on the British Colonies which leaves a quarter of the colony's population dead. They are led in this Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1644) by Opechancanough, younger brother of the great paramount chieftain Powhatan and now himself paramount chieftain of the Powhatan confederacy.

1644 - 1646

The Second Battle of Virginia - sometimes referred to as the start of a Third Anglo-Powhatan War - takes place in 1644, with the native Powhatan confederacy still under Opechancanough. He leads a party of Powhatans in a violent assault on the British Colonies and as many as four hundred are killed. However, rather than press home their advantage, the natives retire. This bookends the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1644). The result of this failure to press home the advantage is that the English completely crush the Powhatan and take control of eastern Virginia.


In May an Iroquois force of one hundred and sixty warriors attacks Montreal in the French Colonies and captures seventeen colonists. Following other such raids, the French retaliate with a small military force made up of French, Huron, and Algonquin to counter the Iroquois raids - there are heavy casualties on both sides.


Queen Cockacoeske of the Pamunkey signs the Middle Plantation Treaty, which brings another Anglo-Indian war to a close. By this treaty all of the tribes submit to the British Colonists, and are confirmed in their tribal lands, subject to an annual peppercorn rent of three arrows and a tribute of beaver skins. This treaty marks the end of the Indian period. The Indians along the coast lose their remaining land and are confined to small reservations.

Cockacoeske / Queen Anne of the Pamunkey
Queen Cockacoeske - known by the English colonists as Queen Anne - was the wife of Totopotomoi, himself the second successor to Opechancanough, and it was her sad duty to sign away many of the freedoms of what remained of the Powhatan confederacy

The Yoacomaco also disappear around this time. The circumstances of their disappearance have not been recorded but it can be assumed that they share the same fate as their Algonquin-speaking cousins. The domination of the eastern shore by Algonquian-speaking tribes is over. It is the colonists who now rule and the diminished and weakened tribes can only survive by merging with other small groups or migrating until they can find a peaceful, relatively isolated area in which to settle.

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