Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures

By Frederic W. Gleach | Go to book overview

1 The Native Context

It is commonly assumed that Powhatan society was extinct by 1700, and that remnants of their population were wholly assimilated into non-Indian society. This view is based both upon English people's wishful thinking about Indian people and upon the fact that documents about Indians in Virginia after 1700 are few and scattered. In actual fact, Indian society in Virginia was not extinct by 1700; in many ways it was not even much changed.-- Helen Rountree, Change Came Slowly

WHEN THE ENGLISH arrived in Virginia in 1607, settling at Jamestown, they called the Indians resident in that area the Powhatans, after the common-use and titular name of their paramount chief. The Powhatans were an Algonquian-speaking paramount chiefdom occupying the coastal plain of Virginia from the south side of the James River north to the Rappahannock. Powhatan had inherited the political leadership of six or seven tribes in the late sixteenth century, and then expanded his authority through conquest to over thirty tribes by 1607 (figure 2). It is generally accepted that the time depth of this political organization was not much more than one generation prior to Powhatan himself and that this consolidation was probably at least partly spurred by contact with Europeans in the sixteenth century.

The appropriate terminology to describe the Powhatans' political organization has been a subject of much recent contention. Contemporary accounts referred to Powhatan as "king" (e.g., Smith 1986d:104.) or "emperor" (e.g., Smith 1986b:173; Strachey 1953:56), but popular usage has long been to refer to the tribes as the Powhatan confederacy; Fiske ( 1897:94) was one of the first to use that term, followed by Mooney ( 1907) and others. Fausz ( 1977:69) states that "Powhatan's empire can be interpreted as a 'centralized monarchy,' a 'traditional state' or a 'chiefdom' according to the often ambiguous terminology of political anthropologists." More recently,

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Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Methodology and Previous Research 1
  • 1 - The Native Context 22
  • 2 - The English Colonial Context 61
  • 3 - Prolegomena 88
  • 4 - The Birth of Virginia in Tsenacommacah 106
  • 5 - Virginia Before the 1622 Coup 123
  • The Great Massacre of 1622 148
  • 7 - Virginia Between the Coups 159
  • 8 - The Coup of 1644 and Its Aftermath 174
  • 9 - A Survey of Virginia Indian Relations After 1646 184
  • Conclusion 199
  • Introduction 207
  • References 213
  • Index 235
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