Nemattanew (also spelled Nemattanow; died 1621 or 1622) was a war leader of the Powhatan Confederacy during the First Anglo-Powhatan War. At the time he served as a close adviser to paramount chief Opechancanough (1618-1646).
Nemattanew first appears in English records in 1611, when George Percy mentioned 'Munetute' [sic] as being sent by paramount chief Wahunsunacawh to lead native resistance to the colonists' expansion in the upper James River region. This was when Henricus was founded, during the course of the First Anglo-Powhatan War. Percy notes that the English derisively called the leader "Jack-of-the-Feather," on account of his native war regalia, remarking that "he used to come into the field all covered over with feathers and swans' wings fastened unto his shoulders, as though he meant to fly".
Because Nemattanew was never wounded in these skirmishes, he began to believe he was supernaturally invulnerable to musket-fire. He persuaded his fellow tribesmen of this attribute, enhancing his reputation with them.
In the more peaceful times following the war, Nemattanew continued to play a prominent role. The English trained him to become a proficient musket shot. At one point in 1618, he raided the English settlement, capturing some guns, but these were returned by Chief Opechancanough.
In 1619, Opechancanough sent him to propose that the English contribute 8 to 10 soldiers to accompany a Powhatan war party for an assault on a Siouan tribe above the fall line, to avenge some Powhatan women they had slain. In return, the Powhatans would equally share all plundered captives, corn and territory with the English. This proposal was accepted by the council; however, it failed to implement it by supplying the soldiers.
A short time before the Great Massacre of 1622, in which the Powhatan attacked Henrico, Nemattanew appeared at the home of settler Morgan. He saw some trading-trinkets and proposed taking Morgan to Pamunkey to gain a good price. Morgan was never seen again. A few days later, Nemattanew showed up at the plantation and announced Morgan's death. As he was wearing Morgan's hat, settlers suspected the Native American might have killed the settler. They tried to force him to go with them to the nearest magistrate, he resisted, and one of the English fatally shot him. As Nemattanew lay dying, he begged to be buried behind English lines, and not to reveal to his people that he had been felled by English fire.
In England, Captain John Smith, who had not been in Virginia since 1609, wrote in his 1624 Generall Historie of Nemattanew's death as occurring two weeks before the Henrico massacre. But 20th-century historian Rountree says, based on contemporary documents, particularly Council in Virginia, that it occurred no later than November 1621, while George Yeardley was still governor. This was five months before the massacre. There is some evidence in this document that by 1621, Nemattanew had fallen out of favor with Opechancanough. Modern historians debate the nature of Nemattanew's true role in this event. They agree that the massacre was already being planned before he died, rather than being in reaction to his murder by the English colonists.
- A True Relation by George Percy (modernized spelling version)
- Helen Rountree, Pocahontas's People, 1990, p.72.
- Ian Kenneth Steele, Warpaths, p46, 1994, ISBN 0-19-508223-0
- Rountree 1990, p.69.
- Rountree 1990, p. 71.
- Natives and Newcomers By James Axtell, p. 253.
- Epanow, Native American leader in New England at this time.