11. Virginia Algonquian

The Algonquian history of Virginia is complex and at times confusing. Most of the Algonquian groups belonged to the Powhatan Confederacy of more than thirty tribes. The Confederacy was organized long before the English settled at Jamestown in 1607, under the leadership of Wahunsunacawh, called Chief Powhatan (1545-1618). They inhabited the Coastal Tidewater region, east of the fall line of eastern Virginia. Each of these tribes had its own chief (male or female) so Chief Powhatan is further referred to as the Paramount Chief. But not all of these tribes survived long enough after contact to leave little more than a footnote in history; others disappeared with less than that. And some, recognized as having been part of the Powhatan Confederacy, were only so peripherally, sometimes allied, sometimes not. It is virtually impossible to construct a timeline because often events were taking place simultaneously. And while the encounters with colonists went relatively the same, every tribe’s history holds a unique piece, and collectively these pieces give us something of a picture. And it’s not a pretty one.

The Algonquian tribes spoke Virginia or Powhatan Algonquian. John Smith recorded 50 words, and in 1610 William Strachey recorded 500 words. The population of the Powhatan Confederacy was estimated at 14,000 to 21,000 people at contact.

Generally speaking, the Algonquian peoples of Virginia were Late Woodland tribes that thrived between 900 CE to 1600 CE. That said, for possibly as long as 15,000 years people throughout all the eras and periods made their mark there. The Late Woodland period is well known for its fishing, hunting, and trapping along with gathering and an impressive degree of cultivation, farmland created through controlled burns. Corn, squash, beans, and tobacco were grown. Rivers yielded another source of food and were traveled extensively by all of the tribes. Most Algonquian people lived in longhouses constructed of bent saplings tied together in the top and covered with bark or woven mats. It has been speculated that due to scarcity of bark, bark covered longhouses might have belonged to those that held important positions in the community. During the summer the sides of the longhouse were opened to allow air flow and relief from the heat. Bedframes were constructed along the interior walls, four feet wide and about a foot off the floor. The beds were covered first with layers of reeds followed by layers of mats. Mats or skins were used for blankets, and mats were rolled up to serve as pillows. The bedding was stored during the day in order to use the space for other purposes.

The chief allotted parcels of land only to women and those parcels were handed down only to daughters. If no daughter existed the Clan Mother determined who would inherit the parcel.  The way in which land ownership was viewed ultimately led to much conflict with the English. Natives believed that the land was “owned” only while it was under cultivation. About every ten years the village was moved to allow the land that had been cultivated to lay fallow. It became “public use” land where anyone could hunt and gather. The English believed the land was theirs in perpetuity once it was purchased and they often let it lay fallow. The Natives thought they could still hunt and gather on the fallow land. The English regarded this behavior as infuriating encroachment.

“Powhatan” is also a word used by the English to refer to the village in which the Paramount Chief lived, in the vicinity of present day Richmond. “Powhatan” was as well the native name of the nearby river, renamed the James River for James I, by the English. In 1607 Chief Powhatan ruled from the village Werowocomoco, on the north side of the York River.

The Powhatan Confederacy began with six inherited tribes: Powhatan (proper), Arrohattoc, Appomattoc, Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Kiskiack. In 1598 the Kecoughtan were added. William Strachey reported that Chief Powhatan had killed the chief of the Kecoughtan in 1597, and replaced him with his son Pochins. Some of the Kecoughtan were resettled on Piankatank River and Chief Powhatan killed them in 1608. Also included in the Confederacy were the Chickahominy, Paspahegh, Nansemond, and Manskin. The Manskin, who lived on the Pamunkey River, were decimated by disease and disappeared from the record in 1750.  Loose affiliations included the Patawomeck, Rappahannock, and Wicocomico. Please be aware that I have included less than half of the Confederacy tribes, although some are briefly mentioned in later paragraphs of this essay. I am unclear with regard to Powhatan (proper) and very little is known about the Arrohattoc.

The Pamunkey were the largest tribe in the Confederacy. Chief Powhatan and his daughter, Matoaka (Pocahontas) were Pamunkey. They had had contact with the Spanish, English, and French before 1607. The Pamunkey people had a chief and a seven-member council who executed all tribal government functions determined by tribal law, and were elected every four years. Elections were conducted by passing a basket that contained peas and corn equal to the number of voters. The peas meant no and the corn meant yes. The basket was passed for each council member and the chief. This form of election was still taking place in 1894. Today, tribal law governs both civil and criminal matters; any outside authority must first go to the chief. The tribe has no police, no jail, no corporeal punishment, no incarceration, and no chastisement. Guilty parties are fined or banished. While there are no written laws, there exist strict slander laws forbidding verbal attacks. This system has worked for 400 years. It remains the chief’s duty to pay annual tribute to the Virginia governor. The annual tribute was a condition of the 1646 treaty and was paid with game, pottery, even peace pipes. Once in the last century acquiring the tribute required that the Pamunkey purchase a turkey because game was scarce that year. According to today’s chief the Pamunkey haven’t missed a payment in 331 years. Pamunkey Woodland Period pottery, made from clay found along the banks of the Pamunkey River, is still being created today.

The Kiskiack lived on the south bank of the York River on the Virginia Peninsula in 1607. They were openly hostile towards the English and refused to help them with food. But by the First Anglo-Powhatan War the Kiskiack were one of only a few tribes somewhat friendly with them.

The Chickahominy lived at the mouth of the Chickahominy River near Jamestown. They helped the colonists through several severe winters as well as taught them how to grow and preserve food. In 1614 the Chickahominy signed a treaty that provided 300 warriors to help the English fight the Spanish. Some believe that the Chickahominy were intermittent allies with Chief Powhatan until joining the Confederacy in 1616. Others believe they didn’t join until Cockacoeske signed the Treaty of Middle Planation in 1677.

The Nansemond were wary of the Jamestown colony. In 1608 the colonists raided one of their villages, burned their houses, and destroyed their canoes in effort to force the Nansemond to give them corn. John Smith demanded 400 bushels or the rest of the village would be razed. The tribe conceded. A month later Smith showed up and took the rest of their corn, leaving the tribe nothing on which to survive the winter. In 1609 the English tried to take Dumpling Island where the chief lived and where the tribe’s temples, ritual articles, and burial grounds were kept. The colonists ransacked and destroyed the village looking for valuables.

When the English came to establish a colony at Jamestown in 1607 it was situated on an island in the heart of Paspahegh territory. They arrived with the intention of acquiring much of the food and goods they needed from the tribes of the surrounding area, being the Powhatan Confederacy and particularly the Kecoughtan. Even so, conflict broke out immediately. The English shot at the natives and within two weeks deaths had occurred. Christopher Newport took a party up the James River and met Parahunt, chief of the Powhatan proper. Newport thought he was the Paramount Chief but in fact he was Powhatan’s son. In his absence a combined force of Paspahegh, Appomattoc, Arrohattoc and others attacked Jamestown. Later in the same year John Smith went up the Chickahominy River where he was captured by Opechancanough, the younger brother of Chief Powhatan. Smith, at that time, met Chief Powhatan and was the first Englishman to meet the Paramount Chief. Powhatan wanted Smith to move the settlement closer his village where he could better provide food and protection in exchange for copper, believed by Confederacy tribes to be essential to their passage after death to the spirit world. Smith said he would comply in order to secure his release, but in actuality he didn’t. Smith and Powhatan formed an uneasy alliance and after Smith was returned to Jamestown in the spring of 1608, Powhatan began sending food to the colony without which the colonists would have starved the first few winters.

But once the colony was established conflict began with all of the tribes. Colonists began demanding corn at gunpoint. This led to some of the tribes abandoning their villages in the fall to avoid selling the colonists corn. Powhatan tried in vain to hold on to the fragile agreement he had made with Smith, who included the following quote in his writings, “What it will avail you to take by force you may quickly have by love, or to destroy them who provide you food? What can you get by war, when we can hide our provisions and fly to the woods? Whereby you must famish by wronging us your friends. And why are you thus jealous of our loves seeing us unarmed, and both do, and are willing still to feed you, with that you cannot get but by our labors?” In 1608 Newport conceded that Jamestown couldn’t possibly survive without the help of Chief Powhatan. Newport made a big to-do of recognizing the chief’s importance and lavished him with European goods. Viewed as antagonistic, the gesture wasn’t well received.

John Smith became president of the Jamestown colony in 1608. In 1609 he sent Captain Martin with a force to take an island in the Nansemond territory and drive off the inhabitants. Seventeen of his men mutinied and went to the Kecoughtan village to buy corn where they were subsequently killed. Smith bought Parahunt’s village on the James River, and renamed it Nonsuch. Parahunt was chief of the Arrohattoc. Attempts to inhabit these two areas failed due to Powhatan resistance. The Paspahegh chief was captured during a raid on Jamestown. He escaped and eventually made peace with these words, “We perceive and well know you intend to destroy us that are here to entreat and desire your friendship…”  Unmoved, Smith sent a force under Francis West to build a fort at James River Falls and persuaded some of the men to remain there. A brief period of peace followed after the capture of Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, by Samuel Argall. She was baptized and married to John Rolfe. According to Pamunkey stories Pocahontas had been married to a Patawomeck man named Kocoum for three years before Argall kidnapped her as a hostage to get English ammunition and prisoners released, held by her father. Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas died only a few years later.

In 1609 Smith left for England and never returned to Virginia due to some accident that had occurred with gun powder. In November of the same year John Ratcliffe was invited to Orapakes, Powhatan’s new capital. Ratcliffe sailed up the Pamunkey River in hopes of trading. A fight immediately broke out between Powhatan and the colonists. Those who had come to shore were tortured and killed, and those left on board managed to escape back to Jamestown.  That winter many colonists died of starvation.

In May of 1610 Thomas Gates arrived from England with more colonists, provisions, and an order from King James to Christianize the natives. Before long Gates decided that Jamestown should be abandoned but as they sailed down the James River they encountered another supply ship. The new governor was on board and he persuaded Gates and company to return to Jamestown with him. In June of 1610 the new governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr (Lord Delaware) arrived. By all accounts, Lord Delaware was a tyrant. In July he sent Gates to the Kecoughtan village to drive them off where the English built a second fort, Fort Algernon, in Kecoughtan territory in 1610. The natives were supposedly lured out of their village with a tambourine player and were slaughtered. The survivors fled and merged with other Powhatan groups. Powhatan attacked Jamestown, taking captives and supplies, and killing many colonists. And while the colonists fought back, they only succeeded in killing twenty natives. Lord Delaware issued a warning to Chief Powhatan: either return English goods and captives or face war.  Powhatan didn’t respond so Lord Delaware severed the hand of a Paspahegh and sent it to Powhatan as a second warning. Powhatan still didn’t respond. Frustrated by the lack of response, Lord Delaware sent 70 men to attack the Paspahegh village in August. Seventy-five natives were slaughtered, houses were burned, corn fields destroyed, and one of Chief Wowinchapunke’s wives and her children were kidnapped. They threw the children overboard and shot them in the head; their mother was stabbed to death in Jamestown. In February of 1611 Wowinchapunke was mortally wounded during a raid on Jamestown. The Paspahegh never recovered and the events triggered the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Survivors probably merged with other tribes before disappearing from the historic record.

The Appomattoc people were encountered by Christopher Newport in May of 1607. Their village was located at the mouth of the Appomattox River. Newport was met by a warrior carrying a peace pipe and a bow and arrow offering Newport the choice between war and peace. In the same month Newport led a second party to the Appomattoc village where he observed that the village was surrounded by cornfields. Newport’s party was welcomed with food and tobacco by Oppussoquionuske, a female chief. Nevertheless, not long later, warriors began raiding the colony until Chief Powhatan called an end to it. John Smith met Oppussoquionuske and Chief Powhatan when he was captured and taken prisoner in 1607 and released in the spring of 1608. In the fall of 1608 Smith and Ralph Waldo, desperate for corn, visited the village again. Smith noted that the nearby village, ruled by Oppussoquionuske’s brother Coquanasum could muster about sixty warriors. The relationship began to deteriorate in 1609 and contributed to the beginning of the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Thomas Dale seized the Appomattoc village and the surrounding land in 1611, first renaming it New Bermudas and in 1614 incorporated it under the name of Bermuda Hundred.

Chief Powhatan was succeeded briefly by his brother Opitchapam, who was succeeded by Opechancanough. In 1622 Opechancanough and the Pamunkey destroyed two English settlements and part of Jamestown but failed to drive the English out, while nearly destroying his and allied tribes. This event became known as the First Anglo-Powhatan War as well as the Indian Massacre of 1622 or the Great Massacre. The Kiskiack, formerly friendly, took part in this war against the English because of the relentless encroachment. The following year colonists retaliated, killing more than 200 men from a number of tribes by giving them poison at peace making meeting. Nathaniel West destroyed Coquanasum’s village. The survivors were driven off in 1623 and settled farther up Swift Creek where they were again attacked by colonists in 1627. About the same time the Kiskiack migrated west and the English took the site of their village by 1629.  The colonial governor virtually ordered the colonists to build houses on both sides of King’s Creek and the south side of the York River, traditional Kiskiack land, in 1632. It was the first inland settlement established by the House of Burgesses. The settlement was called Middle Plantation and would be later known as Williamsburg when it became the capital of colony. The area was palisaded in 1634. In 1635 Henry Fleet drove the surviving members of Coquanasum’s tribe even further up the Swift Creek Valley and built a fort on the north bank overlooking the falls. During the same years the English began taking Nansemond land and the tribe eventually split up. Some were Christianized and stayed on the Nansemond River as farmers. Others warred with the English in 1644 and fled southwest to the Nottoway River which eventually became a reservation.

The Second Anglo-Powhatan War took place in 1644 and ended with Opechancanough’s capture in 1646. By then he was 90 to 100 years old and was shot in the back by his English guard.  Opechancanough was first succeeded by Necotowance who signed the Treaty of 1646, followed by Totopotomoi, and finally by his daughter, Cockacoeske. But even in the presence of treaty boundaries, reservations, and annual tributes encroachment continued. The Pamunkey could no longer sustain their traditional way of life and were forced to work for the English; some were enslaved. The Mattaponi, who had lived on the Mattaponi River in 1607, fled to Piscataway Creek but eventually returned home after the conflict and signed the treaty as well. The Chickahominy were forced to cede their land after the war. They resettled on the reservation between the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers with the Pamunkey.

The Confederacy tribes including the Appomattoc became tributaries to the King of England. By then the Appomattoc were located on both sides of the Rohoic Creek near Petersburg and Appomattox on the north end of the Occaneechi Trail, referred to as Ronhorak and Matok. In 1645 the Virginia Colony built Fort Henry at the falls just east of the Ronhorak. In 1649 the Kiskiack were settled on the Piankatank River. They had been granted 5000 acres which they exchanged for a different 5000 acre track farther upriver. The English continued to encroach regardless. Fort Henry marked the legal frontier with a line running from modern Franklin to a Monacan town on the James River, just west of modern day Richmond. This line separated the Appomattoc, Weyanoke, and Nansemond from the Confederacy tribes in the north. Fort Henry controlled the native and colonist traffic flow east and west. To go to either side required natives to wear a badge of white cloth into white territory without which they could be murdered on the spot. In 1662 this was changed to a copper badge, the absence of which led to arrest. A 17th century copper badge inscribed with the word Appomattock was found in the 20th century in Dinwiddie County.

The Powhatan Confederacy began to fall apart after the treaty of 1646. White colonists took the land between the York and Blackwater Rivers, separating the Nansemond, Wyanoke, and Appomattoc in the south from the other confederacy tribes of Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. The southern border was respected for the rest of the 17th century. However, in 1649 the House of Burgesses lifted the northern border and settlers flooded in, taking more land from the northern confederacy tribes. Fort Henry was also the starting point for English ventures west. In 1650 an Appomattoc man named Pyancho led Abraham Wood beyond the headwaters of the river.  In 1661 the Chickahominy moved to the headwaters of the Mattaponi River but encroachment continued. In 1665 the House of Burgesses passed strict laws that required the Powhatan tribes to accept chiefs appointed by the governor. Of course these chiefs were viewed as friends and allies by the English. By 1669 The Kiskiack had only 15 bowmen, disappearing from historic records during Bacon’s Rebellion. The survivors may have joined the Pamunkey, Chickahominy or the Rappahannock. In 1671 Perecuta led Thomas Batts and Robert Follam into present day West Virginia. In 1674 Thomas Batts broke the treaty and took the land west of the Matoks. Settlers destroyed the Appomattoc village during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676. Bacon’s Rebellion was believed to have been the outcome of a rivalry between Nathaniel Bacon and Governor William Berkeley over colonial economic decline. Bacon is believed to have used the tension with the local tribes as an excuse to attack innocent tribes such as the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, for raids conducted by other tribes. Indian slavery was illegal in the colony but was reintroduced by Bacon in 1676. While many were violently opposed to this, other tribes raided their enemies and sold their captives to the English in Virginia and farther north. Remarkably, it took the colonial legislature fifteen years to abolish it again. Meanwhile, Cockacoeske, succeeding her husband as chief after he was killed fighting for the English, remained an ally of Berkeley. She signed the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677 on behalf of several tribes including the Mattaponi and gained authority over the Rappahannock and the Chickahominy even though they weren’t formal members of the Confederacy. Siouan and Iroquoian tribes also signed the treaty.  And while the Mattaponi people were considered a part of the Powhatan Confederacy they continued to maintain their own government independent of it. Reservations were assigned requiring annual payments and agreement to becoming subjects of the King. Payments by the Pamunkey and Mattaponi continued to be made after Virginia became a state.

Perecuta and his Appomattoc people were left out of the Middle Plantation treaty but signed an addendum in 1680. As the Appomattoc dwindled they were constantly under attack from their traditional western enemies and they asked for protection from the English. Only seven families were left surviving on a pasture at Westover Plantation. They are thought to have become extinct by 1722, either assimilated into white culture or other tribes.

The Chickahominy lost title to their reservation in 1718. While a few remained on the land, most merged with the Pamunkey and other tribes. Some migrated to Kent and Charles City counties closer to their original homeland; the Chickahominy tribes recognized today are their descendants.

The names Appomattoc and Mattox are sometimes applied to the Matchotic, a group made up of remnant Confederacy tribes in the Northern Neck region between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. In 1744 the Nansemond left the Nottoway River reservation and merged with the Nottoway on another reservation nearby. The Nansemond sold their former reservation in 1792. Two hundred descendants of the Nansemond are recognized by the state.

The Mattaponi, Pamunkey, and Chickahominy went to a treaty conference in Albany, NY to end conflict between the Iroquoian and the southern tribes. After the Treaty of Albany in 1684 the Powhatan Confederacy disappeared.

While the Mattaponi remained on the reservation throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, encroachment continued. In the 19th century the Mattaponi had to repeatedly defend its land against encroachment. The Gregory Petition alleged that the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey were no longer Indians and therefore the land no longer belonged to them. The petition failed. Both tribes had been treated like a single entity until 1894 when the Mattaponi finally separated from the defunct Pamunkey-led Powhatan Confederacy. The Mattaponi, recognized by the state of Virginia, continues to pay the annual tribute under the 1677 treaty. The Upper Mattaponi tribe is a separate band, recognized by the state but not living on the original reservation.

Today, 840 members of the Chickahominy Tribe live in the area of Chickahominy Ridge on 110 acres. Several hundred others are scattered throughout the US. They maintain an elected tribal government of one chief, two assistant chiefs, and twelve council members that include men and women. The Chickahominy Tribe Eastern Division shared a history with the Chickahominy Tribe until the 1900’s. It is thought that the tribes split due to inconvenient travel distances, religious reasons, and so forth. The tribes remain intertwined due to family connections. The state recognizes both tribes but the federal government does not. Curiously, the Chickahominy remain recognized by the British because of the 1677 treaty that is still honored.

As mentioned earlier, the Rappahannock people were a peripheral group of the Powhatan Confederacy. In 1607 they dominated the north and south banks of the Rappahannock River with thirteen villages. A party of Rappahannock put on their finery and went to Jamestown. According to Rappahannock accounts, John Smith was captured by the Rappahannock and taken to their main village. They wanted to determine if he was the Spaniard that had attacked the tribe years earlier and were satisfied that he was not. In 1608 Smith returned to the village to mediate a feud between the Rappahannock and another tribe. After the Great Massacre of 1622 colonists attacked the Rappahannock villages. When The Second Anglo-Powhatan War took place in 1644 the colonists viewed the Rappahannock as neutral and didn’t attack them again. In the 1650’s settlers moved to Rappahannock River forcing the tribe to withdraw from the south bank. The chief ceded some land to the settlers and the colony created a reservation for the Rappahannock. Conflict continued into 1654 with the English demanding restitution for damages. The chief was killed. Dispute over the border went on until the border was moved again. At that point the Rappahannock people moved away, settling at the headwaters on the Mattaponi River. Only 100 people had survived. In 1677, with only 70 people left, the Rappahannock briefly joined Cockacoeske’s attempt to resurrect the Powhatan Confederacy but withdrew in 1678. They relocated on the ridge between the Rappahannock and Mattaponi Rivers. The Virginia colony ordered them to merge with the Portobacco people on the Upper Rappahannock for protection against raiding Iroquois Seneca. Rappahannock descendants still live there. The Nanzatico people lived across the river. In 1705 the English deported them to the West Indies.

The Patawomeck, another loosely affiliated Confederacy tribe, lived on the Potomac River and its tributaries in the coastal area. They were first encountered by John Smith in 1608. He noted that the village was surrounded by a thousand acres of corn cultivated along the river. Japazaws was the chief of one of the satellite settlements and provided assistance to the English when Powhatan wouldn’t befriend Samuel Argall. According to Patawomeck history, Japazaws and Argall plotted, trading a copper kettle in order to kidnap Pocahontas. She was married to a Patawomeck man at the time and was on a trading mission there for her father, Chief Powhatan. The colonists nearly starved to death during the winter of 1609 and they sent Francis West to buy corn from the Patawomeck. A confrontation took place and Argall beheaded two of the natives. Unbelievably peace was made again in 1612 between the Patawomeck and Argall. The tribe remained allied to the English during both Powhatan Wars of 1622 and 1644 even though the English had taken their chief prisoner in 1622. In 1650 settlers flooded into Patawomeck territory. The English declared war on the Patawomeck and other tribes in the Northern Neck area in 1660. Giles Brent took another chief prisoner in 1662 but the colonists pressured Brent to release him in effort to keep the fragile peace. In October of 1665 the chief sold the remaining land to the colony for next to nothing and the Patawomeck disappeared from history. Archaeological evidence suggests that they might have merged with the Portobacco tribe on the Rappahannock River.

The Wicocomico people, another peripheral Confederacy group lived just north of the Little Wicomico River. When Smith encountered them in 1608 the Wicocomico were settled on the south side mouth of the Potomac. Between 1652 and 1655 the colony court ordered the Wicocomico and the Sekakawaons to merge and relocate south of the Great Wicomico River, giving them 4,400 acres near Dividing Creek. The Cuttatawomen likely merged with them sometime between 1656 and 1659. The merged tribes adopted the name Wicocomico. The court then appointed Machywap chief of the combined tribes. In 1659 the Wicocomico deposed him and replaced him with Pekwem. There were constant conflicts over white encroachment. Between 1660 and 1673 the tribe often challenged the colonists in court over land disputes. Remarkably, most settled in favor of the tribe but by 1719 they had only 1700 acres left. In 1705 Robert Beverley, Jr. reported that there were only three Wicocomico men left to govern the tribe. After 2729 and the death of William Taptico, the last chief, the English confiscated the remaining land. The Wicocomico dispersed and disappeared from the record. Nevertheless, Taptico’s descendants reorganized as the Wicocomico Indian Nation in the late 20th century. They have yet to receive any recognition.

The Chesapeake or Chespian people lived in the area of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. The Nansemond lived just west of them. A large Chesapeake burial site was found near Pine Beach at Sewell’s Point thought to be the village of Skicoak. The villages Apasus and Chesepioc have been found near Virginia Beach. Burials, arrowheads, stone axes, pottery and beads have been found in the Great Neck area. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Chesapeake people might have originally been Carolina Algonquian but I couldn’t determine what that evidence was. The fate of the Chesapeake is unknown.

Even less is known of another tribe called the Senedo. A massacre took place sometime between 1650 and 1700. They were a known enemy of the Catawba. Remnants of the Senedo were still present in Shenandoah County in 1778 but they disappeared from the record shortly thereafter. The fate of the Senedo is unknown.

The final tribe mentioned in this essay illustrates the confusion created by state borders. The Ani Stohini/Unami people inhabited the Blue Ridge Mountains occupying seven counties of southwest Virginia and one county in northeast North Carolina. Even so, they seem far more culturally related to the North Carolina Algonquian tribes. The Ani Stohini/Unami people spoke a language called by them, Tla Wilano. Ani Stohini is the Cherokee name for Turtle Clan. Unami is the Tla Wilano word meaning Turtle People. Unami is also a Lenape word for Turtle People. Adding to the confusion, the Ani Stohini/Unami people were known by about fifty different names by early explorers. The ancient trade routes running both north-south and east-west converged at Max Meadows, Virginia, an expanse of vast meadows that stretched from Daper Valley to Cumberland Gap. This was the heart of Ani Stohini/Unami country. Countless and highly diverse tribes traveled through the area constantly. Even the Iroquois came down to this area to hunt and trade. Consequently, the Ani Stohini/Unami quickly became linguistic geniuses, fluently speaking many languages including Siouan and Iroquoian. There was some intermarriage between the Ani Stohini/Unami and the Cherokee but there was otherwise no affiliation. A Cherokee man marrying an Ani Stohini/Unami woman joined her tribe and was no longer considered a member of his former tribe. All of their children would be consider Ani Stohini/Unami by both tribes. Today they live in mountainous rural communities. The Ani Stohini/Unami have never filed for state recognition but have been seeking federal recognition since 1968.

After so many horrific stories about the Virginia Algonquian and the others I thoroughly enjoyed the stories about Creed Burcham and Lottie Patton. Both were revered healers among the Ani Stohini/Unami people in recent history and lived in the mountains of southwest Virginia. Creed, who had been a coalminer, developed black lung disease and cured himself of it with a tea rendered from wild ginger and mullein leaf. Before long the mountain people came to him for everything from snake bite to tuberculosis. Creed doctored them for 22 years. Meanwhile, Lottie grew up near Cold Mountain and became famous for her healing mixtures. Both practiced the Morning Song Way, a complex system that taught that every plant had its own medicine song. Creed and Lottie also both knew a legendary healer named Granny Graham of Fries who also practiced the Morning Star Way. While Creed and Lottie knew of each other by reputation they never actually met until they had reached the ages of 80 and 90 years old. Neither ever charged a dime for their healing ceremonies, sings, or medicinals. Lottie has left us with a fabulous quote. She said, “If someone went around claiming to be a medicine man [or woman] and charged for their services, that was the first clue you should run the other way”.  She also said she had no tolerance for the “weekend drumming shamanistic seminar types.” A woman after my own heart.  Charles Thomas at age 16 began an apprenticeship under Lottie in 1972 and under Creed in 1977. His apprenticeships continued until their deaths. At the time, Creed, Lottie, and two Brush Creek elders, Ethel Davis and Edith McRoberts, as well as Granny Graham were the last to speak Tla Wilano. All of these individuals died within five years of each other, leaving Charles Thomas the last remaining speaker alive. He is compiling a dictionary. Tla Wilano is thought to be one of the oldest dialects of the grandfather language of the Lenape.

In closing I want to mention that the withering history of the Algonquian Virginians might well have not been represented properly by me. While I tried my utmost to be thorough I am left with the feeling that certainly some of the information might be wrong and other important factors may have been omitted. I apologize for this possibility and hope you realize that it wasn’t intentional. I am acutely apologetic to the peoples involved, they having not given me permission to speak of their history, their ancestors, or their culture.




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Responses to “11. Virginia Algonquian”

  1. There were a number of things that jumped out at me in this essay: mention of the controlled burn –
    A controlled burn is one of the remedies I’ve been thinking about for the non-native invasive Ailanthus that’s taking over the view shed.

    “Natives believed that the land was “owned” only while it was under cultivation. ” this has been on my mind from the beginning. I find the idea of ownership of the Panorama Acres as distasteful. It doesn’t seem right that it is privately owned. By us. We intend to be the last.

    The stories you tell are so … overwhelming?
    All the different tribes – and all the different languages.
    I am trying to find the ‘patterns’ in them…the common denominators.
    of course, I see the repetitive nature of the ‘encroaching’ – and all the murders. and multiple tribes collapsing into one.
    And the looting – not by the Native People, but by the Colonists. What sticks out – beyond the injustice – is the Colonists sense of entitlement to take what they want. What a tragic lack of respect.

    And what is the tale we want to share with others? It is unbelievable how ignorant I am – how ignorant I was!
    “Adding to the confusion, the Ani Stohini/Unami people were known by about fifty different names by early explorers.” I hadn’t reallly considered this part of the complexity.
    I didn’t know the whole Pocahontas story.
    I find it difficult to take it all in.
    I also love: “Ani Stohini is the Cherokee name for Turtle Clan. Unami is the Tla Wilano word meaning Turtle People”

    “While I tried my utmost to be thorough I am left with the feeling that certainly some of the information might be wrong and other important factors may have been omitted.” I respect your statements and will mirror your treatment of this information also.

    I am grateful to you.

    • There are two problems that must be considered with regard to controlled burns. One is that fire doesn’t discriminate, which is fine if you are clearing land for a cornfield; and two, control is often lost of controlled burns and the next thing you know you have a forest fire on your hands. I would start by first consulting your local Forest Service and your county’s Cooperative Extension. Both might know precisely what to do about the Ailanthus, and if they don’t they probably know who does.

      Today, owning land can mean the difference between preservation and destruction. It can however be donated to an appropriate agency that will continue its preservation and support.

      Yes, the history is overwhelming but the truth of it, good and bad, is what needs to be shared, over and over and over. Preserving your land and making its history known is a terrific step. The public can contribute to that preservation; it can also make donations to the tribes that are still struggling to survive.

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