|Regions with significant populations|
|English, Algonquian (historical)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Chickahominy, Monacan, Rappahannock|
The Patawomeck tribe of Virginia Indians is based in Stafford County, Virginia, along the Potomac River (Patawomeck is another spelling of Potomac). It is one of Virginia's 11 recognized Native American tribes. It is not federally recognized. It achieved state recognition in February 2010, aided by anthropology research conducted by the College of William and Mary.
Today the tribe numbers approximately 500 members. Eighty percent live within ten miles (16 km) of their historic village of Patawomeck. They are undertaking to revive their historic Algonquian language. In the 17th century, at the time of early English colonization, the tribe was a "fringe" component of the Powhatan Confederacy. At times it was allied with others in the confederacy, and at others, the Patawomeck allied with the English colonists.
For thousands of years various cultures of indigenous peoples succeeded each other, living along the Potomac River and its tributaries in the coastal area. Archeological excavations have yielded much data about the prehistoric early cultures. At Indian Point on Potomac Creek, for instance, part of the later Patawomeck area, archeological excavations in the 1930s revealed a Native American burial ground (Potomac Creek, 44ST2). Researchers donated 134 skeletons from the grounds to the Smithsonian Institution. Now that the Patawomeck tribe has been recognized by the state, they may undertake claiming the remains for repatriation and burial under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), though a tribe has to be federally recognized to utilize NAGPRA without extra petitioning.
More recently, a 1996 archeological study by the College of William and Mary revealed Native American artifacts dating back to the 15th century. More than 10,000 artifacts were recovered, mostly pottery sherds of the "wrapped-cord type" common among local indigenous people. While the ancient village site is protected under historic preservation laws, the land is being steadily eroded by the creek. The coastal peoples were part of the Algonquian-speaking language family that coalesced into differentiated tribes from present-day New England into the southern states.
The historical Patawomeck tribe formed as one of 32 Algonquian-speaking peoples in the Tidewater area of present-day Virginia. They were loosely allied with the powerful Powhatan Confederacy. They were an agricultural people, cultivating varieties of maize. They also relied on hunting, fishing and gathering resources from their rich environment.
The first recorded European encounter was that of the English leader John Smith, who visited the people in 1608 in their homeland, between Aquia Creek and Upper Machodoc Creek. He noted they were cultivating 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of corn along the Potomac River. The Patawomeck main town, also called Patawomeck, was located on the north of Potomac Creek, in present-day Stafford County. The weroance of Passapatanzy, a satellite village, was Japazeus (also spelled Japazaws or Iopassus), older brother to the main weroance.
The Patawomeck were semi-independent of the Powhatan Confederacy of Chief Powhatan to the south. They befriended the English colonists (Captain Samuel Argall in particular), often providing them crucial assistance when the Powhatan would not. When the colonists faced starvation at Jamestown in 1609, Francis West was sent to buy corn from the Patawomeck. In a violent confrontation, he beheaded two of them and fled in his pinnace to England.
Argall made peace with the Patawomeck in 1612, during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. According to contemporary accounts by Ralph Hamor and others, on April 13, 1613, Argall, with the connivance of Japazaws in exchange for a copper kettle, was able to capture Chief Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas, who had been living in Patawomeck around three months on a goods trading mission for her father.
Current Mattaponi tradition holds that the main Patawomeck weroance was Pocahontas' first husband Kocoum, who was then murdered by the English. However, other scholars have argued that the only mention of a "Kocoum" in any English document is taken from a statement published in 1616 by William Strachey in England, noting that Pocahontas had been living married to a "private captain called Kocoum" for two years. Since 1614 is certainly when she married John Rolfe, and no contemporary records even hint at any previous husband, it has accordingly been suggested that this "private captain called Kocoum" was in fact a nickname for Rolfe himself, with the reference being later misunderstood as one of Powhatan's officers. In addition, the date of Strachey's original statement has been widely disputed by numerous authors attempting either to make the case, or refute, that Pocahontas had been previously married.
The Patawomeck continued to ally with the English in their conflicts with the Powhatan in 1622 (even after Captain Isaac Madison took their weroance prisoner), and in 1644. After settlers began moving into their area in the 1650s, pressures mounted in competition over resources and differing ideas of how to use land. Violent disputes followed. In 1662, Colonel Giles Brent took their weroance Wahanganoche prisoner, but the colonists ordered him released. In October 1665, the weroance sold their remaining land to the colony for a few matchcoats.
In 1666 after continued conflicts, the English colonists declared war against several tribes in the Northern Neck, including the Patawomeck. After this, the Patawomeck disappeared from the historical record. A silver badge issued to Wahanganoche in 1662, was found in a contemporary archeological excavation near Portobago (or Portobacco) on the Rappahannock River. It may indicate that the survivors merged with the Portobacco tribe, as did remnants of several other tribes.
20th century to present
In 1928, the anthropologist Frank Speck wrote of the Native American population living around the original Patawomeck capital. From his studies of the Algonquian peoples, he believed they were remnants of the old Patawomeck nation. Although without solid proof they were not from another tribe, he called them the "Potomac".
Today the tribe has 500 members, most of whom live in Stafford County within ten miles of Patawomeck. Through a cooperative venture with the College of William and Mary, they received research assistance to help document their case for state recognition of the tribe. Virginia recognized the tribe in February 2010, and they are to be represented on the Virginia Council on Indians.
The tribe's language was of the Algonquian family. It is no longer spoken, but some tribal members are interested in revitalizing the language. They plan to use the audio and printed materials prepared by the linguist Blair Rudes for cast members who portrayed Native Americans in the film, The New World film (2005). Rudes reconstructed the Algonquian language as it was spoken in coastal Virginia in the early 17th century.
The Patawomeck chief is John Lightner, but the former chief, Robert "Two Eagles" Green, was an adviser to the filmmakers of The New World (2005). It is about the colony at Jamestown and the Native American peoples and cultures encountered by the colonists. Green appeared in the film in a non-speaking role. The Patawomeck provided the filmmakers with numerous wild turkey feathers and deer antlers to create authentic clothing for the Native American characters in the film.
Green portrayed Powhatan in the episode "Pocahontas Revealed" (2007) of PBS's Nova. Green is a resident of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is originally from White Oak. His son Jason Green appeared in The New World as a Powhatan warrior.
- Patawomeck Indian Tribe; General Assembly to extend state recognition & representation on VCI. (HJ150)
- Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, Ph.D., A Study of Virginia Indians and Jamestown: The First Century, "Chapter 2: Research Design", National Park Service, 2006, accessed 16 Mar 2010
- Patawomeck Indian Tribe General Assembly to extend state recognition & representation on Virginia Council on Indians. (HJ150), Richmond Sunlight
- Linda Wheeler, "Modern Lives Dwell in the Indian Past", The Washington Post, 20 Oct 2002, accessed 16 Mar 2010
- National NAGPRA Frequently Asked Questions, National NAGPRA, accessed 16 March 2010
- Dr. Linwood "Little Bear" Custalow, 2010 The True Story of Pocahontas p. 47
- Charles Dudley Warner, The Story of Pocahontas p. 7
- Fairfax Harrison, 1924, Landmarks of Old Prince William, pp. 39-40.
- Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People, p. 122.
- Rountree, p. 216