Weroance

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Weroance is an Algonquian word meaning tribal chief, leader, commander, or king, among the Powhatan confederacy of the Virginia coast and Chesapeake Bay region. The Powhatan Confederacy, encountered by the colonists of Jamestown and adjacent area of the Virginia Colony beginning in 1607, spoke an Algonquian language. Each tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy was led by its own weroance.

In older texts, especially from the time of the early Jamestown settlers, spelling was not standardized, so the following spellings are used in different texts:

  • weeroance
  • weroance
  • werowance
  • werowans
  • wyroance
  • wyrounce
  • wyrounnces

A weroansqua is a female ruler. Spellings of this word also vary.

Individual weroances[edit]

Several of the weroances' personal names were known and some recorded by William Strachey and other sources.[1] The names of their respective chieftaincies were also commonly used as titles, exactly analogous to European peerages, so that the Weroance of Arrohattec (whose given name was Ashaquid) was often referred to simply as "Arrohattec", much as the Earl of Essex would be referred to just as "Essex" in lieu of a personal name.

When the English arrived in Virginia, some of the weroances subject to the paramount chief Powhatan, or mamanatowick (Wahunsenacawh) were his own nearest male relatives:

  • Parahunt, Weroance of the Powhatan (proper), also called Tanx ("little") Powhatan, said by Strachey to be a son of the paramount chief Powhatan, and often confused with same.
  • Pochins, Weroance of the Kecoughtan, was also a son of the paramount chief, whom he had appointed there some time after slaying their previous ruler in ca. 1598.
  • Opechancanough, Chief Powhatan's younger brother, was a weroance of the Pamunkey, but increased in power, and came to be the effective ruler of the entire Powhatan Confederacy after Wahunsenacawh's death in 1618.

Matrilineal inheritance[edit]

In Powhatan society, women could inherit power, because the inheritance of power was matrilineal. In A Map of Virginia John Smith of Jamestown explains:

His [Chief Powhatan's] kingdome descendeth not to his sonnes nor children: but first to his brethren, whereof he hath 3 namely Opitchapan, Opechancanough, and Catataugh; and after their decease to his sisters. First to the eldest sister, then to the rest: and after them to the heires male and female of the eldest sister; but never to the heires of the males.[2]

Many writings incorrectly assume inheritance of power was patrilineal (from father to son).[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ List of weroances recorded by Strachey[dead link]
  2. ^ Smith, John. A Map of Virginia. Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1612. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1008, also Repr. in The Complete Works of John Smith (1580-1631). Ed. Philip L. Barbour. Chapel Hill: University Press of Virginia, 1983. Vol. 1, pp. 305-63.