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Powhatan facts for kids

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Powhatan people
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Eastern Virginia, Western Maryland
Historically Powhatan, in modern context, English
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

The Powhatan may mean any of the indigenous Algonquian people that are from eastern Virginia. The Powhatan groups descend from the Powhatan Confederacy. Sometimes, The Powhatan refers to one of the leaders of the people. This is usually the case in historical writings by the English.

The Powhatans have also been known as Virginia Algonquians, since the Powhatan language is an eastern-Algonquian language, also known as Virginia Algonquian. Historians believe that there were about 14,000–21,000 Powhatan people in eastern Virginia when the English came to live in Jamestown in 1607.


Reconstructed Powhatan village at the Jamestown Settlement living-history museum.


Related families were organized into tribes and led by a chief (weroance/werowance). The great chief above them was called mamanatowick, or Powhatan.


The Powhatans lived on a large area of land in Virginia. It was bordered in the north by the Potomac River, in the west by the Fall Line, in the south by the Virginia-North Carolina border, and in the east by the Atlantic Ocean.


Typically, men were the warriors and hunters in the tribe. The women were responsible for everything in the home from gardening, cooking, and crafting to building the homes. The women had "work parties" because they knew they could get more done if they worked together. When the men would go on long hunts, women went ahead to build the hunting camps.


The Powhatans built their homes (called yehakins,) in villages. Powhatan women would bend saplings (young trees with thin trunks) and cover them with woven mats or bark. They used fires to heat their homes. The little bedding they needed was easily stored away during the daytime.


The Powhatans made the most of the land around them. They grew crops (mostly maize), fished, and hunted in the great forest. When the land became less plentiful, they moved early enough to allow the soil to replenish, plants and trees to grow, and the number of fish and animals to increase.


In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a mamanatowick (paramount chief) named Wahunsenacawh created a powerful organization by joining 30 tribes in eastern Virginia. They called this area Tsenacommacah ("densely inhabited Land"). Each tribe had its own weroance, and they all answered to Wahunsenacawh. The English knew him as "The Powhatan (Chief)."

Tensions rose between the English settlers and the Powhatan. However, Wahunsenacawh was able to keep the peace until he died in 1618. After his death, his brother Opchanacanough became chief and attacked the English. Fights with English settlements and infectious diseases like measles and smallpox brought to North America by Europeans nearly eliminated the tribe.

By the mid-17th century, the settlers' leaders needed workers to farm the land. They used almost half of the English and European immigrants as indentured servants. When that was not enough, they brought enslaved Africans for labor. Some servants and slaves escaped and went to live with the Powhatan.

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 kept reservation lands since the 17th century. Other cultures of the Powhatan and English settlers were joined through unions and marriages of members. The most famous marriage between the Powhatan and English was 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.

Interesting facts about the Powhatan

  • Powhatan is pronounced, "Pow-HAT-un" or "POW-hat-un."
  • Powhatan meant "waterfall" in the Virginia Algonquian language.
  • Bear fat was a huge part of Powhatan life. In the summer, they would rub bear fat on their bodies to ward off mosquitoes. In the winter, they would rub it on their bodies to keep them warm.
  • The area that Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh) was leader over was called Tsenacommacah or Tenakomakah.
  • When the English settlers arrived, Chief Wahunsenacawh sent food to them.
  • The Powhatan created fun activities that would help them run quickly, a skill they needed for hunting and fighting.
  • In 1609, Powhatan left his area because the English settlers wanted to make the tribe be ruled by England.
  • Many stories told about Pocahontas are not true.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Powhatan para niños

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