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Total population
Enrolled members: 1,500
Regions with significant populations
English, Algonquian (historical)
Related ethnic groups
Chickahominy, Rappahannock, Piscataway

Patawomeck is a Native American tribe 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.[1] It is not federally recognized. It achieved state recognition in February 2010,[2][3] aided by anthropology research conducted by the College of William and Mary.[4]

In the 17th century, at the time of early English colonization, the Patawomeck 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.

Today the tribe numbers approximately 1,500 members.[5] Eighty percent live within ten miles (16 km) of their historic village of Patawomeck. They are undertaking to revive their historic Algonquian language.[6]


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.[4][7]

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.[4] 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.

17th century[edit]

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 13 April 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 Pocahontas's first husband was Kocoum, brother of the Patawomeck weroance Japazaws, and that Kocoum was killed by the English after Pocahontas's capture in 1613.[8] Today's Patawomecks believe that Pocahontas and Kocoum had a daughter, Ka-Okee, who lived with the Patawomecks after her father's death and her mother's abduction.[9] However, other scholars[who?] have noted 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 three years.[10] Since 1614 is certainly when she married John Rolfe, and no other contemporary records even hint at any previous husband, it has accordingly been suggested that when Strachey wrote of the "private captaine called Kocoum" he was mistakenly referring to Rolfe himself, with the reference being later misunderstood as one of Powhatan's officers.[11] In addition, the date of Strachey's original statement has been widely disputed by numerous authors[who?] 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.[12]

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.[13]

20th century to present[edit]

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".[14] Many families living in and around White Oak in Stafford County had oral histories linking them to the Patawomecks; these included families with the names Sullivan, Newton, Green, Bourne, Bullock, Fines, and Curtis.[15] However, racism in Virginia caused many families to hide their Indian ancestry.[15][16][17] In particular, Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and the work of state Bureau of Vital Statistics registrar Walter Plecker ensured that for most of the 20th century, official records recognized Virginians as either "white" or "colored", erasing Indian heritage from the public record.[15][16][17]

In the 1990s, Robert "Two Eagles" Green, a native of White Oak and resident of Fredericksburg, worked to reorganize the tribe and began seeking state recognition.[15] The reorganized Patawomecks received research assistance through a cooperative venture with the College of William and Mary to help document their case for state recognition of the tribe. The tribe applied to the Virginia Council on Indians for recognition, and were told that they met five of the six criteria for recognition; however, the council felt that the Patawomecks were not able to prove that their group had continued to exist as a distinct Indian community through the years.[18] The Patawomecks felt that they had sufficient evidence to prove their continuous existence as a community, and persuaded Bill Howell, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and representative for Stafford, to sponsor a bill for the tribe's recognition.[19] In February 2010, Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton, whose father was Patawomeck (also of Irish descent), spoke before the House Rules Committee in support of recognition.[16][17][19] In the same month, the measure was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates and the state Senate, marking official state recognition of the tribe.[18][19] The same measure granted the Patawomecks a seat on the Virginia Council on Indians.[18]

Robert "Two Eagles" Green was the chief of the tribe from its reorganization until 2013, when he retired and became Chief Emeritus. Green was an adviser to the filmmakers of The New World (2005), about the colony at Jamestown and the Native American peoples and cultures encountered by the colonists.[20] Green appeared in the film in a non-speaking role; his son Jason Green also appeared as a Powhatan warrior.[15][20] The Patawomecks provided the filmmakers with numerous wild turkey feathers and deer antlers to create authentic clothing for the Native American characters in the film. Green also portrayed Powhatan in the episode "Pocahontas Revealed" (2007) of PBS's Nova.

In 2013, Green was succeeded as chief by John Lightner.[6] Today the tribe has approximately 1,500 members, most of whom live in Stafford County within ten miles of Patawomeck.[5] In 2014, the tribe worked with Stafford High School to make the school's "Indian" mascot more representative of Virginia Indians.[5]

The tribe's language was of the Algonquian family. It is no longer spoken, but some tribal members are working to revitalize the language.[21] They hold classes using the audio and printed materials prepared by the linguist Blair Rudes for cast members who portrayed Native Americans in the film, The New World.[6][20] Rudes reconstructed the Algonquian language as it was spoken in coastal Virginia in the early 17th century.[22]


  1. ^ "HJ150: Patawomeck Indian Tribe; General Assembly to extend state recognition & representation on VCI". Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Patawomeck Indian Tribe General Assembly to extend state recognition & representation on Virginia Council on Indians. (HJ150), Richmond Sunlight
  4. ^ a b c Linda Wheeler, "Modern Lives Dwell in the Indian Past" Archived 25 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine., The Washington Post, 20 Oct 2002, accessed 16 Mar 2010
  5. ^ a b c Umble, Amy Flowers (27 March 2014). "Stafford High gets real with Indian mascot". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on 26 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Estes, Lindley (23 November 2014). "Video celebrates Virginia Indian Heritage Month". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on 26 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  7. ^ National NAGPRA Frequently Asked Questions, National NAGPRA, accessed 16 March 2010
  8. ^ Custalow, Dr. Linwood "Little Bear"; Daniel, Angela L. "Silver Star" (2007). The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. pp. 43, 47, 51, 89. ISBN 9781555916329. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  9. ^ Deyo, William "Night Owl" (5 September 2009). "Our Patawomeck Ancestors" (PDF). Patawomeck Tides. 12 (1): 2–7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  10. ^ Strachey, William (1849) [composed ca. 1616]. The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britinia. London: Hakluyt Society. p. 54. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  11. ^ Warner, Charles Dudley (31 October 2012) [first published 1881]. The Story of Pocahontas. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  12. ^ Fairfax Harrison, 1924, Landmarks of Old Prince William, pp. 39-40.
  13. ^ Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People, p. 122.
  14. ^ Rountree, p. 216
  15. ^ a b c d e Dennen, Rusty (1 October 2006). "A tribe's tale: Jamestown celebration shines new light on Patawomecks". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  16. ^ a b c Davis, Chelyen (3 February 2010). "Newton returns to back his tribe". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  17. ^ a b c Kunkle, Fredrick (3 February 2010). "Wayne Newton advocates for Virginia state recognition of Patawomeck Indian tribe". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  18. ^ a b c Davis, Chelyen (17 February 2010). "Patawomeck tribe receives recognition from the state". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  19. ^ a b c Davis, Chelyen (9 February 2010). "House backs tribal status for Virginia's Patawomecks". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  20. ^ a b c Zitz, Michael (24 December 2005). "Stafford history goes Hollywood". The Free Lance—Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  21. ^ Guy, Becky (2013). "Reclaiming Our Language". Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  22. ^ Kimberlin, Joanne (10 June 2009). "Lost Indian language reconstructed for movie". The Virginian-Pilot. Norfolk, Virginia: Landmark Media Enterprises. Retrieved 21 July 2014.

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