kids encyclopedia robot

Powhatan facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Powhatan people
Total population
3,850
Regions with significant populations
Eastern Virginia, Western Maryland
Languages
Historically Powhatan, in modern context, English
Religion
Native (indigenous), Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Pamlico, Nanticoke, Lenape, Massachusett, and other Algonquian peoples
The Coronation of Powhatan John Gadsby Chapman
The Coronation of Powhatan, oil on canvas, John Gadsby Chapman, 1835
Powhatan john smith map
Powhatan in a longhouse at Werowocomoco (detail of John Smith map, 1612)

The Powhatan may refer to any of the indigenous Algonquian people that are traditionally from eastern Virginia. All of the Powhatan groups descend from the Powhatan Confederacy. In some instances, The Powhatan may refer to one of the leaders of the people. This is most commonly the case in historical writings by the English.

The Powhatans have also been known as Virginia Algonquians, as the Powhatan language is an eastern-Algonquian language, also known as Virginia Algonquian. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 Powhatan people in eastern Virginia, when the English colonized Jamestown in 1607.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief) named Wahunsenacawh created a powerful organization by affiliating 30 tributary peoples, whose territory was much of eastern Virginia. They called this area Tsenacommacah ("densely inhabited Land"). Wahunsenacawh came to be known by the English as "The Powhatan (Chief)". Each of the tribes within this organization had its own weroance (leader, commander), but all paid tribute to The Powhatan (Chief).

After Wahunsenacawh's death in 1618, hostilities with colonists escalated under the chiefdom of his brother, Opchanacanough, who sought in vain to drive off the encroaching English. His large-scale attacks in 1622 and 1644 met strong reprisals by the English, resulting in the near elimination of the tribe. By 1646, what is called the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom by modern historians had been decimated.

More important than the ongoing conflicts with the English settlements was the high rate of deaths the Powhatan suffered due to new infectious diseases carried to North America by Europeans, such as measles and smallpox. The Native Americans did not have any immunity to these, which had been endemic in Europe and Asia for centuries. The wholesale deaths greatly weakened and hollowed out the Native American societies.

By the mid-17th century, the leaders of the colony were desperate for labor to develop the land. Almost half of the English and European immigrants arrived as indentured servants. As settlement continued, the colonists imported growing numbers of enslaved Africans for labor.

By 1700, the colonies had about 6,000 black slaves, one-twelfth of the population. It was common for black slaves to escape and join the surrounding Powhatan; some white servants were also noted to have joined the Natives. Africans and Europeans worked and lived together; some natives also intermarried with them. After Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, the colony enslaved Indians for control. In 1691, the House of Burgesses abolished native slavery; however, many Powhatan were held in servitude well into the 18th century.

In the 21st century, eight Native tribes are officially recognized by Virginia as having ancestral ties to the Powhatan confederation. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi are the only two peoples who have retained reservation lands from the 17th century. The competing cultures of the Powhatan and English settlers were united through unions and marriages of members, the most well known of which was that of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Their son Thomas Rolfe was the ancestor of many Virginians; many of the First Families of Virginia have both English and Virginia Algonquian ancestry.

Some survivors of the Powhatan confederacy have relocated elsewhere. Beginning in the late 19th century, individual people identifying collectively as the Powhatan Renape Nation settled a tiny subdivision known as Morrisville and Delair, in Pennsauken Township, New Jersey. Their ancestry is mostly from the Rappahannock tribe of Virginia and the related Nanticoke tribe of Delaware. They have been recognized as a tribe by the state of New Jersey.

Images for kids

kids search engine
Powhatan Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.