History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

The Americas

North American Native Tribes


Powhatan Confederacy (North American Tribes)
Incorporating the Accohanock, Accomac, Cantaunkack, Chepecho, Chesapeake, Chiskiak, Cuttawomans, Kecoughtan, Kiskiack, Mattehatique, Moraughtacund, Mummapacune, Nantaughtacunds, Onaumanients, Opiscopank, Orapaks, Paraconos, Paspahegh, Pataunck, Piankatank, Pissasecs, Portobaccoes, Powchyicks, Quiyoughcohannock, Secacawone, Shamapa, Tappahannocks, Tauxenent, Totas-Chees, Warraskoyack, Werowocomoco, Westmoreland County Appomatux, & Wicocomoco

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 Powhatan confederacy was located on the eastern seaboard, centred on the modern state of Delaware, with its main neighbours being two Siouan confederacies - the Manahoac and Monacan - who inhabited the Piedmont region in the north-west, whilst the Nanticoke were across the water of Chesapeake Bay, and to the west and south-west were other Siouans - the Occaneeche, Saponi, and Tutelo. To the south were the Iroquoian-speaking Nottoway and Meherrin, and in the mountains to the far north were the Mohegan and Delaware.

CompendiumThe name 'Powhatan' (or Powhattan, Powatan, Powhaten, Pohetan, or even Poughwaton) is usually stated as having been taken from the name of the confederacy's second paramount chieftain of the late 1500s. However, the possibility exists that the name was instead a title which referred specifically to the leader of the confederacy, so each of the successive paramount chieftains may have been referred to as 'powhatan'. The basis for the Powhatan confederacy was formed by an unnamed Indian chieftain in the mid-1500s. Upon his death his son, Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh, succeeded him and expanded upon his father's conquests to create a form of union rather than focusing merely on subjugating the other regional tribes. It was a union which may have survived him and his son, who succeeded him, but for the pressures induced by the European colonists. The confederacy consisted of at least thirty-two tribes and was also known as the Virginia Algonquin. It was largely surrounded by tribes of alien lineage which were hostile to this tidewater people. (More information about this people is available via the compendium link, right.)

FeatureThe Powhatan confederacy, when it was encountered by the colonists of Jamestown and the adjacent Virginia Colony beginning from 1607 onwards, was recorded as speaking an Algonquian language. The Algonquin shared a common linguistic lineage with the Abenaki, Cree, Delaware (Lenni-Lenape), Mahican, Miami, Narragansett, Ottawa, Shawnee, Wampanoag, and Wappinger, to mention but a few. They shared territory and hostilities with these groups and also with tribes of the Iroquois and occasional Siouan enclaves. Their tribal structure was quite sophisticated.

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. A weroansqua was the female equivalent, while the paramount chief was known as Powhatan (clearly a title here, hence the confusion over whether the word is a name or a title, or both, although it is generally used to refer to the second paramount chieftain). Spellings of both titles vary greatly thanks to the lack of standardised spelling at the time they were recorded (see the compendium for variations). 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.

The original six tribes of the confederacy were the Powhatan proper (essentially consisting of the immediate entourage of Powhatan himself and his village kin - in essence a new tribe born out of the Pamunkey, the largest of the original six), then the Pamunkey themselves (with sub-tribes of their own), plus the Appamatuck, Arrohattec, Mattaponi, and Youghtanund. These are dealt with on their own pages and the spelling used for each name is either the most popular or the most sensible, with other variations being pointed out in the introductions. Many of the tribes of the Powhatan confederacy have names that are synonymous with their local river or settlement. For example, Powhatan has the same name as his immediate tribe and also a settlement of the same name.

FeatureVarious other, larger tribes as well as the many listed at the top of the page were also dominated by the Powhatan confederacy. Some of these are also covered on their own pages, while more minor tribes are mentioned in the accompanying feature (see link, right). These included the Accomac (also shown as Accomack or Accawmacke), Accohanock (Accohannock or Acohanock, and possibly even Occohannock), Chesapeake (Cheesapeack, Cassapecocke, or Chesapeiacks), Chickahominy, Chiskiak (Chiskiack, Kiskiak, Chesskoiack, or even the barely believable Chesecake), Cuttawomans (Cuttatawomans, possibly two individual tribes of the same name), Kecoughtan, Moraughtacund, Nantaughtacunds (Nandtaughtacund, Nanzcattico, or Nanzaticoe), Nansemond, Onaumanients (with or without the 's', and also shown as Onawmanient), Opiscopank (Orapaks or Orapake), Paspahegh (Paspaheghe), Patawomeck, Piankatank (Payankatank, Payankatanke, Payankatonk, or Payankatook), Pissasecs, Quiyoughcohannock (Quiocahanoc or Quiochohannock, but also initially referred to as the Tappahannocks or Topohanock by the confused colonists), Rappahannock, Secacawone (Sekakawon, Secacaonie, or Secacawoni), Tauxenent (otherwise known as the Doeg), Warraskoyack (Warraskorack, Warrasqueak, Warrasqueoc, or Warosquoyack), Weanoc, Werowocomoco (Werowocomico), and Wicocomoco (Wiccocomico, Wighcocomicoe, or Wicomico).

Added by Strachey and the 1669 census were several more 'tribelets', many of which were nothing more than Pamunkey settlements under a local name. The ability of native American tribes to divide and splinter while still remaining part of a collective people seems to have been astounding. The Strachey 'new' tribes were the Cantaunkack, Chepecho, Kaposecocke, Mattehatique, Mummapacune (in parts of York County), Pamareke, Paraconos, Pataunck (along the Pamunkey River), Portobaccoes (possibly linked to the Indian town of Portobago and to Port Tobacco), Powchyicks, Shamapa, Totas-Chees, and the Westmoreland County Appomatux (not to be confused with the original tribe and river of the same name), with those shown in italics being acknowledged as Pamunkey settlements. Also to appear as a later tribe were the Gingaskin or Chingoskin, an amalgamation of the remains of the Accomac and Accohanock. An unknown or unnamed tribe also lived along the Potomac River.

(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.1550

? / Powhatan

Name unknown. First confederacy chieftain, a 'powhatan'.

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 (with a focus, seemingly, on the Pamunkey) and essentially forms a sixth by the presence of his immediate followers.

Upon his death his son, a young 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.

Cape Henry
At the opening of Chesapeake Bay, modern Cape Henry's beach is famous for its lighthouse, but in the sixteenth century the area was home to the Chesapeake people

However, there are problems with this origin story. If this unnamed chief is an Algonquian speaker then Florida is a little too far south. Evidence of a Florida connection seems hard to come by, other than this one report of a flight north from there.

It seems more likely that either the chief is taken in by Algonquian speakers when he flees north (presumably with an immediate entourage) and is adopted or, more probably, that his exodus is related to the Florida episode but that his own base is father north, closer to Algonquin territory. Could he be raiding in the south instead of living there?

Another potential issue is the speed with which the Powhatan confederacy 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?

c.1550 - 1618

Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh / Powhatan

Son. Father of Matoaka (Pocahontas).

c.1550 - 1607

By the end of the sixteenth century, Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh (sometimes given as Wahunsenacawh, 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. His son Parahunt is now weroance of the Powhatan proper. At its height, his realm is known as 'Tsenacommacah', which effectively serves as the native name for the later state of Virginia. It extends across ten thousand square miles of territory, from the banks of the James River northwards to the Potomac River and from the Atlantic Ocean westwards to the rolling hills of the piedmont. The tribes in this region are linked by a common language, Eastern Algonquian.

Powhatan / Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh
Chief Powhatan, more accurately known as Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh, brought together a large number of minor tribes on the eastern seaboard to create one of the great early historical confederacies

Powhatan is mamanatowick, the chief of chiefs, and he lives amongst the Pamunkey people, but his power and authority varies from one part of Tsenacommacah to another. Peoples who are distant from his centre at Werowocomoco on the north bank of the York River (Gloucester County, Virginia) are more politically independent than those who are located within the core territory. The various tribes pay tribute to him, and he rules by 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. Pochins (see below) had been given command of the Kecoughtan after slaying their previous weroance. Wowinchopunk is retained as weroance of the Paspahegh after they are conquered by Powhatan thanks to the paramount chief's deep respect for him.


A party of Roanoke British Colonists led by the native, Manteo, attacks the town of Dasemunkepeuc in the early hours. The island lies to their immediate north, on the shoreline opposite their island. Instead of killing enemy Roanoke Indians however, they kill friendly Croatoans, including their weroance, Menatonin.

? - c.1598


Unnamed weroance of the Kecoughtan. Killed by Pochins.

c.1598 - ?


Son of Powhatan. Weroance of the Kecoughtan.

At some point before 1608, according to James Mooney (1907), as an example of Powhatan's methods of rule, he takes advantage of the death of the chief of the Kecoughtan to invade their territory, kill all who resist him, and transport the rest bodily to his own country, finally settling them at Piankatank on the river of the same name (presumably following his depopulating the tribal settlement in 1608 - see below).

fl 1600s?

Parahunt / 'Tanx' ('Little') Powhatan

Son of Powhatan. Weroance of the Powhatan proper.

FeatureDespite Parahunt being granted by his father the title of weroance of the Powhatan proper, he is cognisant of the fact that he will not inherit the paramount chieftaincy that his father currently holds (see more in feature link, right).

fl 1607 - 1611


Weroance of the Paspahegh. Retained after Powhatan conquest.

The Paspahegh tribe appear only sporadically in English records and consequently little is known of Wowinchopunk. Most of the tribe's dealings with the colonists are clearly through hostilities which end with Wowinchopunk's death at the hands of the English and the distribution of the surviving Paspahegh in 1611. That year, because of some perceived disrespect shown to Governor Dale by Powhatan, George Percy is despatched to wreak revenge on the Paspahegh and their neighbours, the Chickahominy, as they are settled in closest proximity to Jamestown. Percy's men kill fifteen or sixteen tribesmen and capture the Paspahegh queen (Wowinchopunk's wife) and her children. The children are thrown into the river and are shot, whilst the queen is taken away and stabbed to death despite the desire of some who wish her to be burned instead.

fl pre-1618


Accomac & Accohannock weroance. Led Eastern Shore Tribes.

fl pre-1618


Weroance of the Chiskiak.

fl pre-1618


Weroance of the Moraughtacund.

fl pre-1618


Weroance of the Nantaughtacund.

There is a mass of weroances of the early confederacy period who are known by name and perhaps by the tribe or tribes which they control. Little else is known about them, however, including their dates and fates. Some are shown here where their tribes don't have a page of their own, while others are included under various related entries.

The Accomac inhabit Cheriton on Cherrystone Inlet, Northampton County, Virginia. Their weroance, Debedeavon, is also weroance of the (probably related) Accohanock. He is mystified by the occasional sightings he has had of 'huge canoes being towed by clouds' (European vessels). He realises their potential power, and is anxious to be close to these strangers. These 'eastern shore' tribes of his provide the origins of the thirteenth century Uttapoingassinem, great emperor of the united tribes from the 'Eastern Shore' which seem to focus primarily on the Piscataway.

The Chiskiak are commanded by Ottahotin. They are located on the site of the attempted Spanish Ajacán Mission of 1570. In a complicated tale of deceit and murder on both sides, the Spanish hang eight Chiskiack in 1572, including Ottahotin's uncle, and the weroance seeks revenge. On hearing that the Croatoans have encountered white men, Ottahotin eagerly anticipates his chance to destroy them, but the main Spanish forces abandon this densely-settled area and concentrate on the Florida lands to the south.

Ottodeacommoc is known to Powhatan as a master crafter. He creates Powhatan's bow, arrows, staff, and clothing. In thanks for these services Powhatan raises him to the rank of weroance of the Moraughtacund. They occupy parts of Lancaster and Richmond counties, Virginia. Thanks to their central position in Port Tobacco on the Rappahannock River, the Nantaughtacund act as a meeting place for the northern tribes and have become Powhatan's northern administrative centre. The tribe's weroance, Vropaack, often hosts visiting diplomats and weroances.

No weroance of the Onaumanients is known, but they occupy land on the Nomony River in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The Cuttawomans, occupying parts of King George County, Virginia, are similarly unremarkable and unremarked, along with the Opiscopank on the Rappahannock River, and the Secacawone in parts of Northumberland County, Virginia.

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 or tap on map to view full sized)

A large number of other weroances are also named, but without any corresponding dating. The best estimate is that they flourish during the 1600s, when the Powhatan confederacy is at its height. The alternative is that they emerge as independent tribal leaders during the collapse of the confederacy.

fl 1600s?


Weroance of the Doeg / Tauxenent. Piscataway tayac.

Kittamaquund is weroance of the Doeg (Tauxenent) who live in Fairfax County, Virginia (around the area of George Washington's Mount Vernon). He is the confederacy's main diplomatic connection with the Piscataway tribe, the Doeg being the tribe furthest north of the chiefdom's members. Indeed, the Doeg are so close to the Piscataway that there is often doubt as to who commands the greatest loyalty - them or the Powhatans. On balance however, it is a bonus to have the close political relationship. Indeed, Kittamaquund would seem to be the 'emperor' of three or more tribes in a union which greatly pre-dates the Powhatan confederacy. He is descended from one of the sisters of the first emperor, but his lack of any siblings or sons means that he can only nominate his daughter as his successor.

fl 1600s?

Pepiscumah / Pipisco

Weroance of the Quiyoughcohannock.

fl 1600s?


Weroance of the Warraskoyack.

Pepiscumah is weroance of the Quiyoughcohannock who live around the upper Chipoak in Surrey County, Virginia. The village of the same name is the spiritual capital of Tsenacommacah. Families of priests and weroances come here to participate in an arduous ritual known as huskanaw. When this is over, the successful participant becomes a quioccosuk, a lesser god. Pepiscumah is one such, and he experiences visions from elementals of nature which the whole tribe accepts as law.

Tackonekintaco is weroance of the Warraskoyack, the 'breadbasket' of the confederacy. Living in part of Isle of Wight County they produce large amounts of corn. Tackonekintaco manages all the food and thereby controls the nation's surplus stock.

fl 1600s?


Weroance of the Chesapeake.

The Chesapeake are separated geographically from the main confederacy, being located on the Lynnhaven River, in the Cape Henry Region, and on the southern headland at the opening of Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, in Princess Anne County. Keyghanghton is their weroance. Despite their isolation they still have a key role in the confederacy inasmuch as they are the diplomatic link with the Iroquoian-speaking Nottoway tribe, traditional rivals of the Powhatan. The only way that communications with the Nottoway can be maintained is through Keyghanghton.

FeatureOn the strength of an ominous prophecy, Powhatan exterminates the entire Chesapeake tribe and transplants a colony of his own people into their desolated territory. James Mooney (1907) suggests that some members of the 'Lost Colony of Roanoke' may have sought refuge with the Chesapeake before this act and therefore may tragically suffer the same fate when Powhatan's marauders attack (see feature link, right).

fl 1600s?


Weroance of the Wicocomoco.

Mosco is weroance of the Wicocomoco who live in parts of Northumberland County. He is rumoured to be the son of a white man and a weroansqua. He has a hair colour which is unfamiliar to the Powhatan, seen only when the white men had first visited Tsenacommacah.


FeatureJames Fort is founded within the area of the British Colonies, the earliest part of the later Jamestown Colony (1609) on the river of the same name. In May news spreads of explorers sailing on the James River. The Rappahannock weroance takes a party and hurries there, staying with the Quiyoughcohannock. They send word requesting a meeting with the newcomers, and the two sides meet on 4 May.

In the same year, Captain John Smith encounters Pocahontas (a nickname given to her by her father - her real name is Matoaka or Amonute). She is between about ten and fourteen years old, and is the daughter of Powhatan, the chief of the Powhatan confederacy of native tribes. Smith later recounts how she saves him from execution at the hands of the natives when he is captured (and see 1611 and 1613, below).

Captain John Smith trades with the Powhatan
John Smith is shown in this illustration trading with the native Americans who resided close to James Fort, although his explorations took him much further afield, across the northern edge of Chesapeake Bay and into Susquehannock territory (click or tap on image to view full sized)

However, this 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, assimilation being more subtle than conquest. Smith is also paraded before the Rappahannock in case he may be the murderer of one of their minor chiefs. Smith is declared innocent, not fitting the description of the murderer.

Smith draws up a map of Virginia during his various explorations of the New World (which includes a visit to the Arrohattec), and he details the practice of matrilineal succession amongst the Powhatan: 'His [Powhatan's] kingdome descendeth not to his sonnes nor children: but first to his brethren, whereof he hath three, namely Opitchapan, Opechancanough, and Catataugh; and after their decease to his sisters. First to the eldest sister, then to the rest: and after them to the heires male and female of the eldest sister; but never to the heires of the males'.


FeatureCaptain Smith returns to the Rappahannock in the summer of 1608, where he maps fourteen villages on the northern side of the river. Territory on the southern side forms the tribe's hunting grounds. Smith also mediates in a dispute between the Rappahannock and their neighbours, the Moraughtacund.

Exploring the northern edge of Chesapeake Bay, Smith meets the Susquehannock for the first time, while they are still numerous to be able to boast of a population of up to 7,000 in at least five tribal groups. He also meets a group of Manahoac, who live in at least seven villages to the west of the early white settlement, above the falls of the Rappahannock River. The Manahoac are friends of the Monacan and enemies of the powerful Powhatan.

The Powhatan also know the Susquehannock (whom they call cannibals) from painful experience. When the English first settle Virginia, they discover that the Powhatan have placed their villages well inland to protect them from Susquehannock war parties who range the coastline in canoes.

In the same year, James Mooney reports that, as an example of Powhatan's methods of rule and for some infraction of his authority, he conducts a night attack on the Piankatank tribe, slaughtering all the men who cannot escape and carrying off the women as captives.


A British Colonist by the name of Henry Spelman, who had been captured by Powhatan, manages to escape. He seeks refuge with Japasaws, weroance of the Patawomeck, at his village of Passapatanzy. Around the same time, later in 1609, the English require a ruler such as Powhatan to be a king, so they offer him a crown in a ceremony of comic misunderstanding. The chief crowns himself at a Patawomeck village.

The winter of 1609-1610 is an especially harsh one in the British Colonies. The Jamestown settlers are besieged by Powhatan natives as the opening phase of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-1614), and have insufficient food to last the winter. First they eat their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some are driven to eat the leather of their shoes. As the winter crawls on, nothing is spared to maintain life. The period is known as the 'Starving Time' to historians, and is one of the most horrific periods of early colonial history. The final stage of that horror is when the living have to resort to cannibalising the bodies of the dead. Written documents suggest this to later historians, but in 2013 archaeologists discover the proof to back it up in the form of human bones that display clear signs of chops and cuts, probably by an inexperienced butcher, and possibly by a woman, who make up the majority of the fort's inhabitants.

Jamestown parish church
The 1617 Jamestown parish church is in a location that today is increasingly at risk of flooding due to global warming, so four of its most notable internments were archaeologically excavated in 2013 and examined closely to confirm their identities: Captain Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman, Captain William West, and the colony's first Anglican preacher, Reverend Robert Hunt


The Susquehannock attack the Patawomeck villages in northern Virginia despite additional protection provided by the settlements of the British Colonies. The Powhatan are certainly not free of outside attacks, despite their strength. In their heyday around this time, the Massawomeck have thirty palisaded villages of as many as three hundred houses in each, and are much feared by the Powhatan, Nanticoke, Piscataway, and Manahoac.

Skirmishes between the English and natives for food also occur during an exceptionally dry spell of weather that lasts for seven years (according to dendrochronological samples taken for the region). This dry spell could be one reason for the Arrohattec becoming extinct at this time.

1613 - 1617

Matoaka (Pocahontas), whose mother is considered by most sources to be a Patawomeck woman, visits the Patawomeck on behalf of her father. Despite having married a Patawomeck warrior named Kocoum the year before, 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.

When Powhatan refuses to trade for his daughter, Pocahontas becomes resident at Henricus, where she is treated extremely courteously by the English. She is baptised as a Christian, taking the name Rebecca, and she meets tobacco plantation owner Captain John Rolfe who is pioneering a new strain of tobacco plant. The two marry on 5 April 1614. The marriage leads to peace talks and the end of the Powhatan-driven war. A son is born to the couple on 30 January 1615, named Thomas Rolfe. The family sail to England to promote the colony in 1616, with Pocahontas being greeted at court by James I. She dies at Gravesend in March 1617 of an unspecified illness (smallpox is suspected).


Upon the death of Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh (Powhatan), he is succeeded as paramount chieftain by his brother, Opitchapam. In fact, this hand-over takes place in 1617, with Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh residing amongst the Patawomeck for the last few months of his life. However, a younger brother, Opechancanough, appears to be building a power base amongst his Pamunkey subjects and would already appear to be the true power in the confederacy.

1618 - 1621

Opitchapam / Powhatan

Brother of Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh. Titular paramount chieftain.

1618 - 1646

Opechancanough / Powhatan

Brother and true power. Former Pamunkey weroance. Killed.

1622 - 1624

The Province of Maine (the far north-eastern corner of the modern USA) is founded in 1622, its name perhaps originating from the French province of the same name in New France. But it is not all plain sailing for the settlers of the British Colonies. 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 which leaves a quarter of the colony's population dead (347 people, although the Patawomeck refuse to participate in the massacre). 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. This confederacy no longer includes the Rappahannock as a constituent member, but they may still be working alongside it as an ally.

Opechancanough, pictured here in old age, governed the Pamunkey people in the name of Powhatan and the confederacy, before succeeding his elder brother as overall ruler in 1618

1624 - 1630

Handicapped by their inland location, the Iroquois still have to contend with the powerful Mahican confederacy in order to trade with New Netherland, and it takes four years of war between 1624-1628 before the Mohawk emerge as the pre-eminent trading partner of the Dutch in the Hudson Valley. In that time the settlers of the British Colonies defeat the Powhatan (in 1625), the only Eastern Algonquin confederacy that had been strong enough challenge the Susquehannock who are able to vastly extend their range of control.

The Susquehannock expansion is so forceful that in 1628 the Conoy and Patuxenet on the western shore of the Chesapeake are forced to ally themselves to the English in Virginia in order to remain. This alliance is never tested, since the Susquehannock usually leave the residents alone as long as they do not challenge their right to hunt when and where they please.


FeatureTrading with all four European powers in North America means that the Susquehannock have to source a great deal of fur. They are skilled hunters and trappers, but the huge demand keeps them so busy hunting that they have little time left to continue their war of conquest against the Delaware and Chesapeake Algonquin tribes (mostly the Conoy, Nanticoke, and Powhatan living on Chesapeake Bay).

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, although the colonists view the Rappahannock as being independent of the confederacy and therefore leave them alone.

Paspahegh Powhatan Indian village
This recreated Powhatan Indian village at a Paspahegh site close to the Jamestown settlement features reed-covered houses that have been created based on written evidence and archaeological findings

Opechancanough is captured and shot by his own guards and his successor - Necotowance - surrenders, agreeing to abandon everything below the falls on the James and Pamunkey rivers and to restrict the Powhatan to a much-reduced territory. The Powhatan survivors leave Virginia. Being distracted by this war the colonists have little time to concern themselves with the Susquehannock. Unchallenged, the Susquehannock extend their dominion south from the Susquehanna River to the Potomac River where they claim the area between these two points as hunting territory. They do not ask permission of those tribes that live in this area.

1646 - 1647


Relationship? Former Pamunkey weroance? Died soon after?

1647 - 1656


Son. Weroance of the Pamunkey. Married Cockacoeske.


A group of strange Indians - known as Richahecrians (identified by some as Cherokees) - descend and make camp on the James River, apparently for peaceful, trading purposes. Colonel Edward Hill and a hundred men are sent by the British Colonies to force them back, and the chief of the Pamunkey - Totopotomoi - takes a hundred of his own men and joins the fight. The result is calamitous. Totopotomoi and most of his men are killed and Hill is forced into an ignominious treaty with the Richahecrians, for which the colonial general assembly puts him on trial.

fl 1670s


'King of the South Indians' (Weanoc).

fl 1670s


'King of the North Indians' (Pamunkey).

1656 - c.1686

Queen Cockacoeske / Queen Anne

Wife of Totopotomoi. 'Queen Anne' of the Pamunkey.

1662 - 1669

In 1662 a group of Westmoreland County planters try to frame the weroance of the Patawomeck - Wahanganoche - for murder, but they are unsuccessful and the chief is cleared. In the following year, another planter from the same county, together with an official, raises a militia and attacks the Patawomeck without the consent of the General Assembly. In 1665 the General Assembly requires that the Patawomeck sell all their remaining land for the site of a proposed new fort. The assembly also reserves for the governor the right to appoint tribal weroances. Despite this, in 1666 the Governor's Council declares war on the Patawomeck, calling for 'their utter destruction if possible'. A census of 1669 records no warriors amongst the Patawomeck Indians. The tribe has vanished from colonial records.


Another Indian war is triggered, this time involving the British Colonists of Maryland as well as those of Virginia. Known as Bacon's Rebellion, it is named after the leader of the Virginia Volunteers, Nathaniel Bacon, who leads his men in direct opposition to the wishes of colonial Governor Berkeley in a war of attrition against the Indians. The main effort is directed against the Susquehannock, but Maryland Indians in general, very likely fleeing from the depredations of the Iroquois, make several small raids into Virginia and all local Indians are held accountable by the colonists.

Bacon's Rebellion
Nathaniel Bacon refused to follow Governor Berkley's accommodation-not-annihilation approach to dealing with the native Americans - instead he was happy to support the dissatisfied settlers who had suffered from poor crops and high taxes and wanted the natives punished and pushed out

According to Beverley, these raids are instigated by the jealousy of New York traders. A detachment of a hundred men - including mounted troops - is authorised. No one is allowed to sell powder or arms to the Indians on pain of death and forfeiture of estate. The tribes involved are the Susquehannock and Doeg (probably the Tauxenent of the former Powhatan confederacy or possibly the Nanticoke) of Maryland and the Occaneeche and others of Western Virginia. The remnants of the Powhatan confederacy, led by Queen Cockacoeske of the Pamunkey, and including the Mattaponi in the list of those affected, take no part in the hostilities but suffer nonetheless. The Pamunkey and Occaneeche are almost annihilated by the colonists.


Queen Cockacoeske of the Pamunkey signs the Middle Plantation Treaty, which brings the 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 is in payment for reconnaissance and surveillance services, and supplying a quota of warriors to serve against any enemy. Cockacoeske is recognised in certain special dignities and although several tribes are reunited under her authority, the Chickahominy and Rappahannock refuse to submit to her suzerainty (after a year of trying), having been free of Powhatan dominance since the death of Wa-Hun-Sen-A-Cawh (Powhatan) in 1618.

The signatory tribes are: the Appamatuck, Nansemond, Nantaughtacunds, Pamunkey, Portabaccoes (one of the late-appearing tribes in the confederacy which may be a new formation or the amalgamation of previous units), and Weanoc of the former Powhatan confederacy, plus the Meherrin, Monacan, Nottoway, and Saponi. This treaty marks the end of the Indian period. The Indians along the coast lose their remaining land and are confined to small reservations because certain chiefs (Asconnowett, Osattaka, and the late Totopotomoi) regard[ed] themselves as 'tributaries to His Sacred Majestye and ye soveraignitye of the land where they live and doth belong to His Majesty'. Confirmed as native subject leaders are the 'Queen of Pamunkey', the 'King of Waonoke' (the Weanoc), 'King Serraohque of the Nottoways', and the 'King of Nansemond', amongst others.

1682 - 1684

In 1682 the governor's council directs that 3,474 acres of land should be laid out for the Rappahannock Indians 'about the town where they dwelt'. Between 1683-1684 the General Assembly forces the Rappahannock to abandon their fortified village and move upriver to Portobago Indian town. In this position the remaining seventy Rappahannock will act as a buffer between the colony and marauding Seneca (Iroquois) warriors from New York who continue to raid.


By this time there are only a handful of tiny Algonquian-speaking tribes remaining in the Virginia area, and one Iroquoian group. By the end of the century only four Algonquin reservations (Gingaskin, Mattaponi, Nansemond, and Pamunkey) and an Iroquoian one (Nottoway) remain. Some of the tribes that lose their reservations continue living together nearby, becoming ancestors of the modern 'citizen' tribes (especially the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, and Rappahannock). The others have generally dispersed into the west and into other tribes. In the Piedmont, the tribes of the Sioux withdraw southwards, sometimes returning and then leaving again. Non-Indians pour freely into their territory.

Algonquin people fishing
Algonquian-speaking tribes in the Virginia area included the remnants of the Powhatan confederacy, but by 1700 their former military strength had been destroyed, leaving a diminishing number of them as increasingly marginalised foragers in a land of farmers

1705 - 1706

The Nantaughtacund (Nanzatico), who live across the river in Portobago Town, are deported to Antigua in the West Indies, where they are sold into slavery. Within a year (1706), Essex County orders the Rappahannock to leave Portobago Indian Town, using the militia to enforce the order. Their land is reserved for English settlers, while many Rappahannock settle downriver, in King & Queen County. This is the location of their ancestral homelands, and it is here that they remain to this day.


Virginia Indians are forced to re-locate from the Pamunkey Neck area of present-day King William County, where they have lived since the 1677 treaty had been agreed. Nansemond and Saponi survivors have already been incorporated into a single tribe by order of the British Colonial colonial council at Williamsburg (1713), probably in light of their diminished numbers.

1722 - 1723

Many former member tribes of the Powhatan confederacy are extinct by 1722, having drifted away or merged with other remnant groups (notably the Lenape groups who are now on the upper Susquehanna). The Arrohattec had been one of the first to vanish - by 1611. The Rappahannock had already lost their reservation shortly after 1700, while the Chickahominy had lost theirs in 1718. These groups and the Nansemond fade from public view. Only the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and an Eastern Shore group keep reservations, although their land constantly shrinks in size.

Appomattox, the name of the Appamatuck main village, is also applied to a combination of remnants of the same former confederacy, called 'Matchotic', which include the Cuttatawomens, Onaumanients, Pissasecs, Potomac, and Tauxenent. In 1723 construction is completed on the Brafferton building which will house the 'Indian School' at the College of William & Mary. Unfortunately this school closes in 1779.


The Nansemond sell the last of their reservation lands, three hundred acres of the Nottoway River in Southampton County. The tribe has to wait another one hundred and ninety-two years before it receives official state recognition, and the Pamunkey have to wait until 2015 for theirs.


On 20 March, Governor E Lee Trinkle signs 'an Act to Preserve Racial Integrity', a law which aims to protect whiteness at the state level in the USA. It prohibits interracial marriage, defines a white person as someone who has no discernible non-white ancestry, and requires that birth and marriage certificates indicate people's race. Quite naturally this creates a major problem for anyone affected by this - including many of the powerful Virginian families who can trace their lineage back to the son of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, and who had started what may be termed a new 'First Family of Virginia'.

However, between 1920 and 1950 those race-obsessed state officials who try to define a pure white race as one that 'does not contain a single drop of non-white blood', are fighting a losing battle if they try to exclude any of the elite Virginian families who claim such a heritage.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.