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The Americas

North American Native Tribes


Chickahominy (Powhatan Confederacy) (North American Tribes)

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 Chickahominy were located on the eastern seaboard in what is now the states of Delaware and Maryland (eastern section). They were neighboured by the Pamunkey to the north, the Piankatank and Werowocomoco to the east, the Weanoc and Paspahegh to the south, and the Powhatan (proper) and Arrohattec to the west.

CompendiumFor much of its recorded existence the tribe was a somewhat reluctant 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. (More information about the Powhatan confederacy is available via the compendium link, right.)

The Chickahominy name is shown in a variety of ways in original records, including Chickahominie or Chickahamanias. The tribe occupied both sides of the Chickahominy River, from the mouth of the White Oak Swamp, where the waters rise. They lived in what apparently was the most populated area of the Powhatan lands, although they refused to be bullied by the great Chief Powhatan himself. There are a few other points of distinction when comparing to the main body of the Powhatan. For example, the fact that several Pamunkey native tribal names were unknown amongst the Chickahominy. There is also some evidence to suggest that the Chickahominy were about the most conservative of the local tribes.

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' (the Chickahominy did things a little differently, as shown below). 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), 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.)

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 or tap 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.

The Chickahominy are a powerful tribe and, as such, do not take kindly to Wahunsenacawh's high-handed attitude. They never fully assimilate within his confederacy. They also refuse to allow him to choose their weroances. Smith relates that the Chickahominy are governed by a group of priests and eight elders, known as mungai. Their title for their head-man is mangoap - possibly meaning 'great man' - as opposed to the Powhatan term 'weroance', probably meaning 'he is rich'. As Mooney puts it: 'The powerful Chickahominy however, although accepting him [Powhatan] as overlord maintained their own home rule, and took an opportunity to put themselves under the protection of the English'. Strachey points out that the Chickahominy are so alien from being Powhatan's subjects that they have been thought of as his enemies.

fl 1600s?


Mangoap (?) of the Chickahominy.

Attossomunch is the war chief of the Chickahominy, one of the strongest tribes in the Powhatan confederacy. Although confirmed as a 'war chief' his position as mangoap is not confirmed, even though certainly does govern through a peace chief and a council of elders. Attossomunch achieves fame through the prowess he displays in the war against the Monacan during his lifetime. He and his personal warriors are the foundation of a group known as the 'Cult of the Tomahawk', of which Attossomunch is the leader.


FeatureBy this time, three distinctive native tribes of the Eastern Woodland dominate the territory now known as Virginia. These tribes speak three different languages - Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian - and live in organised villages along the banks of the coastal waterways, in woodlands and mountain valleys. When Europeans begin arriving in the region, they meet Indian people of the coastal plain which is inhabited by an Algonquin empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The south-western coastal plain is occupied by Iroquois, Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Chickahominy and Eastern Chickahominy occupy the Chickahominy River in New Kent County. The Piedmont is home to two Sioux confederacies: the Monacan and the Manahoac.

Chickahominy natives meet the English settlers
The Chickahominy meeting the English settlers during the early 1600s, with the elders of each group seated to converse and the English arquebusiers clearly feeling a little nervous about being around so many natives

1610 - 1618

The Susquehannock attack the Patawomeck villages in northern Virginia despite additional protection provided by the settlements of the British Colonies. 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 forms part of the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609-1614).

In 1611, the war is given a dramatic push through 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.

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.

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. This bookends the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622-1644). The result is that the English completely crush the Powhatan and take control of eastern Virginia. 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.


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.

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

fl 1699

Drammacho Mongy

Chief ruler of the Chickahominy.


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.


Many former member tribes of the Powhatan confederacy are extinct by 1722, having drifted away or merged with other remnant groups. 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 in the USA. Only the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and an Eastern Shore group keep reservations, although their land constantly shrinks in size.

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