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Strachey's A Dictionarie of the Indian Language

Smith's Vocabulary of Indian words

Weroances and Their Tribes

English Observers

William Strachey' s Description of Critters in the Chesapeake Bay

Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, 1609


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Are there any Powhatans left?

According to court records and other documents, the population of the Powhatans in Tidewater Virginia had dropped from approximately 13,000 in 1607 to approximately 1,800 by 1669 due to warfare and disease. Diseases that were common to the English, such as measles and smallpox, wiped out entire villages.

Many of the Powhatan tribes no longer existed by 1722. The Rappahannocks lost their reservation shortly after 1700; the Chickahominies lost their reservation in 1718; and the Nansemonds sold their reservation in 1792. The only tribes to keep their reservations, even though their land was constantly shrinking in size, were the Pamunkey, Mattaponis, and; for a short time; an Eastern Shore group called Gingaskins. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservations are two of the oldest in the nation. They are symbols of a people who refused to give up.

At the time of the Civil War, other Powhatan people who did not have reservations began to resurface and began to reorganize into tribes in the early 1900s. In the late 1800s, the Pamunkey tribe began staging plays that told the story of Pocahontas and John Smith. This was to remind the white culture in Virginia of the debt owed to the Powhatan people for saving Jamestown. The Mattaponi tribe continued to rebuild its culture identity. They went into the business community and school systems, teaching the history of the Powhatan culture.

In spite of this outreach effort, during the nineteenth century, state laws were passed that restricted the Virginia Powhatans' ability to travel and prohibited them from testifying in court or inheriting property.

When Powhatan descendants began to form tribes, some people felt threatened. A group called the Anglo-Saxon Club, led by Dr. Walter A. Plecker, prevailed upon the General Assembly to pass the Racial Integrity Law in 1924. This law was meant to erase the existence of all people descended from the Powhatans and other tribes. It prohibited the Powhatans of Virginia from attending white schools or churches. In order to record their marriages as Powhatans, they had to be married outside the state of Virginia.

From 1912 to 1946, the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics classified people of Indian descent as "colored" on birth and death certificates. United States Census figures for 1930 showed 779 Native Americans living in Virginia; that figure dropped to 198 by 1940. The Powhatans no longer had any way to document, through the state or county records, the number of their people, family ties, or movements of family members. Schools and churches were segregated between white, black, and Powhatan cultures. Out of necessity, the Powhatans built their own schools and churches. Their schools did not go past the seventh grade until late 1950, so students had to go to North Carolina or Oklahoma to finish high school. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s gave the Powhatans access to higher education in Virginia. In 1964, the first Powhatan physician graduated from the Medical College of Virginia.



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